Blake Garrett, CEO of School Bytes, never envisioned that winning a high school tech competition would lead to him founding a cloud-based company that streamlines daily administrative tasks for 440 educational institutions in Australia.
Fascinated by technology throughout his school years, Garrett had already been working on a solution to automate paper-based front office processes that he saw firsthand at Chatsworth High School. With his teacher’s encouragement, Garrett entered his project in the 2015 Young ICT Explorers (YICTE) competition, going on to win at the national level. He credited the valuable feedback from both judges and other entrants with helping him iterate and scale what has now become Sydney-based School Bytes.
“I was always interested in programming and computers, and my experience with YICTE provided the chance to refine my presentation skills, meet tech industry experts, and learn from like-minded contestants,” said Garrett. “Seeing what others were working on and getting that exposure helped validate my ideas. I realized I could turn this into a viable business, and it ended up jump-starting my career.”
Early Innovation Fun Leads to Tech Careers
SAP ANZ launched YICTE 12 years ago to help stoke the region’s next generation of technology leaders. Since then, almost 8,000 students from 850 schools across Australia and New Zealand have participated in YICTE competitions. YICTE is supported by CSIRO, with help from universities, other corporate sponsors, and a long-running partnership with The Smith Family, Australia’s largest independent children’s education charity.
“We want to get children in primary and high school interested in and excited about STEM careers,” said Pete Andrew, chief operating officer at SAP ANZ. “The competition shows them how they can use technology to solve actual problems in the world while having fun and unleashing their creativity.”
Andrew said that contest participants have pursued STEM studies, with some going on to university and internships at SAP ANZ. Similar to Garrett, others have founded startups of their own. Competition entries have evolved with community priorities, including sustainability, which was added as a prize category this year.
“The increase in sustainability-related projects in the competition has been phenomenal. You can see the energy and passion these youths have for important topics like environmental change,” said Andrew. “Imagine being a nine-year-old interacting with your friends and presenting to a panel of judges your creative ideas to create a more sustainable future for our planet. From SAP’s perspective, this aligns with our carbon-neutral commitment and corporate vision.”
Students Do Well Through Doing Good
YICTE Accelerator is among The Smith Family programs designed to help young people break the cycle of poverty through education. As part of the program, the charity provides teachers with resource support and professional development, so they can encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to explore career paths in tech. Students who participate in the competition are energized by developing digital tech projects that solve social issues while finding innovative solutions to real-world issues personally, locally, or nationally.
“Being able to creatively solve problems in their own communities is incredibly motivating for students,” said Judy Barraclough, acting CEO at The Smith Family. “For children who might not have Internet access or computers, the YICTE Accelerator program is a wonderful chance for them to develop digital skills, showcasing their initiative and innovation. I’ve talked with many children who’ve participated, and they are committed to their own achievement so they can give back and change the experience of others in their communities.”
According to research out of the UK, children who have at least four exposures to career-based activities or insights during their schooling are much likelier to participate in employment beyond school. Barraclough had high praise for the partnerships that make this possible for the charity.
“We depend on the support of partners like SAP to bring students incredible access to resources and professionals in the tech industry,” she said.
Digital Transformation Through Education
Garrett’s passion for technology has come full circle. Following his YICTE competition win during the last year of high school, two schools interested in his solution immediately reached out to Garrett. School Bytes is a sponsor in this year’s virtual YICTE competition, providing judging and financial support for other aspiring youths. His advice to anyone thinking about a career in tech was simple.
“Just go for it and keep iterating. One of the most exciting aspects of being in high tech is the constant change,” said Garrett. “Bringing administrative tasks into a modular, cloud subscription-based model provides schools with incredible time-saving efficiencies when it comes to managing events, sports, logistics and payments, and professional learning for teacher accreditation. To this day, we continue evolving with innovations like bringing machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) into our solutions.”
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This blog also appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.