Written by Jeff McGaw/ReadingEagle
Reading, PA — Six web professionals sitting in judgement, five teams of creative up-and-coming web designers, and a prize to the team that best figures out how to transform a relatively ugly duckling website into a beautiful high-tech swan.
Reading Area Community College's web application development program hosted a presentation and awards event Sunday at the Miller Center for the Arts for its first web design challenge.
It was a "Project Runway"-like competition, but rather than asking designers to create wearable fashion from grocery store food, the contest challenged them to use their computer coding skills to redesign the website for the Berks County Community Foundation's Jump Start Incubator program.
That seven-year-old program helps entrepreneurs get started in business.
In the end, the Blue Bats, a team of four students from the Berks Career & Technology Center, earned top honors.
Four teams from Reading Muhlenberg Career & Technology Center also competed in the event, which drew dozens of parents, school faculty members and others.
"It was very close," said Jason Brudereck, director of marketing and communications for the community foundation and one of six judges. "There was a lot of debate among the judges."
Jump Start has helped 50 companies launch. Of those, 31 are minority or woman-owned, and the 42 that are still in business employed 121 people and combined for $2 million in revenues in 2017.
That success came despite a website described by some of the students as "bland," "basic," "boring" and "static."
"We had to take away the key points of the old website," said Sean Bachman, who along with Rebecca Davis, David Rohweder and Analee Weichert formed the winning Blue Bats team. "Then we had to kick it up a notch."
After working for several months, teams presented their work to the judges, a key part of the experience, said Brian Savage, RACC's website application development program coordinator.
"Anybody can go make a pretty website," Savage said, "but what makes a great web application developer is someone who can solve business problems in a pretty way, in a friendly way, with a user interface that will allow companies to go forward and gain in efficiencies."
"It's a whole other thing when you have to stand up and show the people who are going to possibly buy what you did," said Adrianna Rivera, a competitor from Reading Muhlenberg. "If you're confident in your work, you have to show that confidence on stage as well."
"I wasn't really worried about the technical aspect of it," said Isaac Freeman, a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and one of the judges. "It was more like. 'What was their presentation like? What is the client looking to accomplish through this medium? Did the contestants execute it?' That's pretty much what we judged on.
"Yeah, a pretty website is nice. But functionality is key at the end of the day."