I was struck by reading our writeup of the Zenit in Electronics contest – an annual event in the Slovak Republic – that it’s kind of like a decathlon for electronic engineers and/or hardware hackers. It’s a contest, in which students compete presumably initially on a local level, and then up to 32 at the national level. There’s a straight-up knowledge test, a complex problem to solve, and then a practical component where the students must actually fabricate a working device themselves, given a schematic and maybe some help. Reading through the past writeups, you get the feeling that it’s both a showcase for the best of the best, but also an encouragement for those new to the art. It’s full-stack hardware hacking, and it looks like a combination of hard work and a lot of fun.

What’s most amazing is that it’s in its 38th year. Think how much electronics, not to mention geopolitics, has changed in the last 40 years. But yet the Zenit competition still lives on. Since it’s mostly volunteer driven, with strong help from the Slovak electronics industry, it has to be a labor of love. What’s astounding to me is that this love has been kept alive for so long.

I think that part of the secret is that, although it’s a national competition, it’s possible to run it with a small yet dedicated crew. It’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor – I can only imagine how many young students’ lives have been impacted by the exposure to microelectronics hacking through the contest. Indeed, it’s telling that the current chairman of the competition, Daniel Valúch, was a competitor himself back in 1994.

I wonder if the people founding Zenit back in 1984 thought of themselves as creating a perpetual electronic engineering contest, or if they just wanted to try it out and it took on a life of its own? Could you start something like this today?

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