-Written by Ayesha Khawaja and Angela Mu
The first programming competition run by high schoolers in the area was held at RM on Saturday, October 14. Organized by the teacher sponsor and student leaders of the RM Computer Team, the competition invited middle and high school teams from Maryland and Virginia to solve a series of programming questions within a set time limit.
The middle school division included several teams from Takoma Park Middle School and Roberto Clemente Middle school, while the high school division included teams from Montgomery Blair High School, Thomas S. Wootton High School, as well as a few high school teams in Virginia. Although twenty-five teams were invited, around twenty teams, each consisting of three or four students, participated in the competition.
The event began promptly at 9 a.m. with registration and an opening ceremony in the cafeteria. Principal Damon Monteleone delivered a speech regarding the STEM field and its applications before the students were taken up to the science hallway to compete.
After completing a practice round, the teams were given eight programming questions that gradually increased in difficulty. They had to code their solutions in either C++, Java, or Python, the three most common programming languages, and the teams had three hours to solve as many questions as they could.
At the conclusion of the competition, a team from Takoma Park won the middle school division, and a team from Deep Creek High School in southern Virginia won the high school division.
The event ran smoothly, although issues with the server delayed the start of the actual competition by an hour. “The biggest issue was related to the server and Wi-Fi. Some people couldn’t connect to MCPS because they were from outside the county,” senior and Computer Team co-leader Andrew Mao said.
Senior co-leader Elvin Liu stated, “Overall, I think [the competition] was successful. We had a few hiccups getting everyone up and running…[but] the actual competition went really well. We didn’t have any major problems.”
The lack of focus on computer science at RM largely motivated the Computer Team leaders to inspire a similar passion for this subject in others. “The computer science department has really only just started. It basically didn’t exist one or two years ago, so only now has it really gained traction,” Mao explained.
He continued, “We stand for the belief that computer science is one of the most important fields to know in this day in age, which is so dominated by technology, and the rise of artificial intelligence and robotics. We want to make a larger statement about what computer science means to us.”
Senior William Liu, another Computer Team co-leader, echoed Mao’s statements. “In our sophomore and junior years we competed in a lot of competitions,” he said. “That dynamic was really fun and we enjoyed it a lot, but there weren’t any [competitions] run by high school students. Most of them were run by universities or companies, so we wanted to create our own and invite middle school students to try it and to familiarize them with programming competitions.”
The purpose of the competition was to emphasize the importance of programming for students. “Programming teaches kids a style of problem-solving that isn’t really prevalent in other classes,” said William Liu. “You need to come up with your own unique solutions to these problems, and that’s something you don’t really get in other STEM fields.”
“It enables you to create what you want and to use your knowledge to create big projects and big ideas”, Senior Naveen Raman added. “You’re not limited by anything else but how well you can think and your imagination.”
Plans for this competition had been in the works for around six months before the actual event. “There has been planning since the last academic year, and there was a lot of work done over the summer,” computer science teacher and Computer Team sponsor Dr. Heather Hennis said.
The computer club is also currently preparing to compete in the PClassic programming competition which will take place later this year. “[PClassic] is a big competition, we didn’t win any top prizes last year, but we definitely plan to this year,” Mao said.
Another goal of the computer team leaders is to expand the membership of their club. “We also have our club where we teach students computer science topics and try to interest them in participating in competitions as well,” co-leader senior Thomas Del Vecchio said.
The co-leaders believe that joining the computer club will be a beneficial experience for all students. Mao stated, “I think more people should consider joining the computer team. We’re a lot of fun and we will teach you new skills!”