Technology exposition or career fair?

Techfair 2012 attracted companies and student projects last week

Photography startup Lytro came to Techfair this year to show off its new 3D camera, whose pictures can be refocused after the shot. They invited students for a hands-on demo of the unreleased product — what they didn’t expect was the deluge of resumes.

“It was great to have students take cameras out and have them excited about the technology,” Lytro’s Director of Photography Eric Cheng said. But, he added, “it ended up being half-recruiting because there were so many people handing [us] resumes.”

Techfair began seven years ago as a student-run trade show, but it is in some ways a job fair too. Its website has place to submit resumes and many students treat the event as a chance to mingle with potential employers.

This year, organizers say they tried to focus on the technology. The eventual goal, according to Managing Director Susie R. Fu ’12, is to grow into the Consumer Electronics Show of the east coast. “[As MIT] we are the center of technology on the east coast and we should have events where we show off cool things,” she said.

On Monday, Feb. 6 in Rockwell Cage, 60 companies and 31 different student projects were on display. Bose had a wand that could project a pinpoint beam of sound. Nest had its learning thermostat, which programs itself to adjust the temperature based on the user habits. Among the student projects were DDR Tetris, the Hat Coil, the Rideable Hexapod, electric instruments, and the beginnings of an Iron Man suit.

Jose Cong, a Nest representative, said the fair was great place to meet students they may want to keep in touch with, but for them it was not a recruiting event. Though they did receive several resumes, they mostly had conversations with students who expressed interest in the technology.

A quick survey of company representatives indicated positive responses to Techfair — everyone asked said that they would love to come back. Companies seemed to like the idea of combining a tech expo with a career fair, explaining that it gave them a good sense of MIT. Pete Hopkins, the representative for Twitter, said, “When I’m talking to students while seeing a guy go by with a Tesla coil on his head, I know exactly where I am — MIT.”

Student reactions to Techfair varied. Maksim Kolysh ’14 was dazzled by the technology. “Techfair is the future of innovation,” he gushed. “Come to Techfair and the products will blow your mind.” Others, sold on the job fair aspect of the event, were frustrated that there were not more employment opportunities.

“If you’re not Course 6 or Course 2 don’t bother coming,” Jeffrey H. Lin ’13 said. “MIT’s commitment to finding jobs for students doesn’t support those who are not Course 6 or 2.”

Fu admits there is a challenge in “balancing [the group’s] vision and the needs of [the group’s] sponsors, who want to connect to students.” Unlike the annual fall Career Fair, Techfair does not organize interviews or company information sessions. Companies who want more interaction with students are invited to run tech-focused side events. For instance, Facebook sponsored a Hack-a-thon and Microsoft sponsored an afterparty with Kinect games.

For students hoping to work for Lytro, there may be hope yet. In light of all the interest, Techfair convinced Cheng that he should take advantage of MIT students’ talents. Now, the company is considering internships.