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Programmed to win

By Bryan Richardson

There comes a day when a child’s knowledge about a subject exceeds his or her parents’ capacity. If your child was one of the 220 high schools students at the KSU Student Union on Thursday, it possibly has happened already.

The students were participants in the 21st annual KSU High School Programming Contest, which involved five rounds (165 total minutes) of solving questions and developing computer programs.

Officials from the Department of Computing and Information Sciences, the contest sponsor, said the contest had more competitors than ever with 65 teams from 29 schools.

Computing and information sciences professors David Gustafson and Rod Howell have been the coordinators of the contest since it began.

Gustafson said his son had lots of opportunities to compete in athletics, and he wanted to provide the same atmosphere for high school computer programmers. “In computer science, we like to give high school students the opportunity to compete and come to campus,” he said.

Howell said questions have evolved as different computer languages were developed and minor organizational adjustments have been made. But he said it is essentially the same contest since the 1992 start.

“It’s amazing how little we changed it in more than 20 years,” he said.

Among the participants were first-timers from Manhattan High School: Cody Dellabough, junior, Jonathan Moreno, sophomore, and Ryan Vasicek, senior. They competed in the beginning division.

Other local participants included Arthur Williams and Kenan Bitikofer from Flint Hills Christian School, and Ian Miller, Duncan Clotfelter and Reid Erdwien from MHS. They all competed in the advanced division.

Dellabough said the MHS game design teacher told the group about the opportunity to compete, although “None of us know a whole lot about coding.” He said they decided to try it for “the experience.”

The group researched at home by downloading coding programs and watching tutorials on YouTube in order to prepare for Thursday.

“You just have to find the programs and tutorials and learn it yourself,” Dellabough said. “It’s difficult to learn on your own.”

The newcomers’ relative absence of experience and preparation shouldn’t be confused for a lack of passion.

Each member said he considers programming work to be the pathway to their eventual careers.

“It is a hobby, but it is something we want to do in the future,” Moreno said.

Dellabough said coding experience is the key for any technology job. “If we learn this now, we can carry this for the rest of our lives,” he said.

With the approach of learning above all else, group members said it didn’t matter how the group performed. “Winning isn’t important,” Vasicek said. “We can find better things to win at.”

That turned out to be a useful attitude because the group was eliminated following the 30-minute first round. Dellabough said the group had a hard time figuring out where to start with the coding process.

“Should’ve practiced a bit more,” Vasicek said.

“Probably,” Dellabough said.

“It’s our fault,” Moreno said.

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