High School Computer Competition Testimonial

James Arama, Southern Minnesota (2009 - 2010)

In December of 2008 I joined Black Data Processing Association (BDPA), an organization that seeks to help minorities succeed in technology careers. The local BDPA chapter ran a Youth Computer Training Program (YCTP) that teaches students web programming techniques. I heard about the program from my friends who had posted pictures and updates on Facebook after they had won the National High School Computer Competition the year before. I signed up for the class with a goal of earning a spot on the competition team and competing at the National Competition. Whenever my teachers gave assignments and extra credit, I would search through online tutorials to ensure my project exceeded all the requirements. By the end of the year, my class rank was high enough to earn a spot on the competition team, a rarity for a first year student.

As a team, we got together during the summer to prepare for the competition via "boot camp," practicing our programming skills for up to thirty hours per week. At the end of the summer we traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to compete against twenty-two other teams from much larger cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. The competition spanned two days, culminating with a seven hour programming project, which required us to create a full database-driven web application from scratch with no outside help. This year's project, which the teams had no advance knowledge of, required the students to write a web-based application allowing potential investors to fill out a form to invest in a venture company and immediately determine potential return of investment, using programming languages such as Java, Javascript, ASP, PHP, .NET in conjunction with MySQL, HTML and CSS.

We used our time wisely. Each member of our team had his/her own portion of the project to work on. I was the Technical Architect as well as a web designer. We began by addressing the requirements. Upon completion of each requirement, we utilized a double blind testing method wherein two independent evaluators tested the application. Errors identified by the evaluators were categorized as either consequential or inconsequential. Consequential errors that deemed to affect the functionality of the requirements were addressed immediately whereas inconsequential errors that deemed not to affect the functionality of the requirements were addressed as time permitted. Due to our methodical approach, we finished our project in four hours, leaving three more hours for more testing and enhancements. Our team ended up taking first place, beating the second place team by a large ten percent margin. At that point I was so stunned that I did not know how to digest what had just happened, but I was glad to be able to call myself a National Champion.

To some extent I have believed that my life has always been full of luck. How else could I have come from one of the poorest villages in Africa, lived in the most unsanitary slums, won an immigration lottery and received national recognition for my computer programming and artistic skills? But as I mature, I realize these blessings are not due to luck at all. My family has supported each other through hard work to turn our fortunes around. They have supported and encouraged me to fulfill my potential. Without this support, I could not have achieved these goals and become the person that I am.