St. Al students compete in coding event

Published 6:20 pm Monday, November 13, 2017

Four St. Aloysius students earned some first hand experience on what it takes to be a computer scientist during the C Spire C3 coding competition Wednesday.

Caden Pickle, Kayla Ahner, Tommy Martin and Andrew Brewer were selected by St. Al teacher Christin Matthews to compete in the challenge, which featured 30 teams of high school students from 12 different Mississippi counties.

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The competition at C Spire headquarters required the students to complete a series of timed challenges with college scholarships going to the top three teams. The twist was they didn’t know what the challenge would be or even which coding language they would have to use until the challenge started,

“It was a secret until we got there,” Matthews said. “They let us know the challenge and then chaperones steps aside and let the students work one-on-one with a C Spire mentor who is a software developer.

“We kind of thought it could be Java so some of us looked at Java, but it turned out to be Python.”

The challenge required the students to use the coding language Python to solve a series puzzles.

“Python is a coding language like English or Spanish,” Martin said. “It is just a different way of how we communicate with machines or in this case the computer to do different tasks.”

The challenge took all day to complete, the students said, and they finished 15th out of 30 teams in attendance.

“I thought it would be very, very hard to do a lot of the problems,” Martin said. “It turned out that one of the problems we ended up having was syntax. The way code works is it is like writing a language. You write it in a particular manner. We knew what we wanted it to do and we had most of it down, we would just miss commas or tabs. We just missed little bity things.”

The students had little to no experience using Python, but were able to make do by using the materials provided by C Spire. Pickle said they completed all but the last challenge where they had to program an elevator to pickup people at assigned floors.

“Once we sat down, they announced the challenge was going to be multiple different puzzles basically that had to be solved using either lines of code, solving riddles or doing a bunch of different stuff involving Python and Java,” Pickle said. “The majority of the challenge was using Python to work through and eliminate other choices or words that we needed to do to solve the puzzle.”

The goal of the contest is to introduce students to the world of computer science and show them the opportunities that exist within the career field. While St. Al doesn’t have a computer science class, students can be introduced to coding through Matthew’s web design class.

“This is the future so I think exposure and experience mostly is what they get out of it and the realization that they can go on and learn this and if they are interested they can go for it,” she said. “Those jobs are available.”

Pickle said the team enjoyed the competition and plans to be better prepared to tackle the problem next year by familiarizing themselves with more coding languages.

“It was certainly a lot of inspiration of going in and learning more about different coding languages and all the possibilities that we could do with it,” Pickle said.