Winning the STEM Battle with … CodeWars

by Mark Potter, SVP and CTO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise & Director, Hewlett Packard Labs
Mar 20, 2018 9:20 AM ET

Originally published on LinkedIn

CodeWars is a magical experience … and not just because some of the high schoolers in attendance were dressed as modern-day Merlins.

Walking among row after row of tables, serving as the day-long home to hundreds of teams of teenage programmers from all over Texas and the South, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much HPE’s annual coding competition has changed since my colleague, Scott Harsany, put on the first event in 1998.

That year, we hosted 87 students in Houston, almost all of them boys. For CodeWars 2018, more than 750 amazing high school students comprising 250 teams were in attendance in Houston alone; and hundreds more participated in Barcelona, Fort Collins and Roseville, with CodeWars events in Taiwan and Bangalore scheduled soon.

More than numbers, however, the modern-day CodeWars reflects the growing diversity in STEM in general, and programming in particular. Boys and girls, from public and private high schools, in cities large and small, from every race, representing dozens of ethnicities and hundreds of points of view.

While on the surface CodeWars is a competition for trophies and other prizes, dig deeper and you’ll find much more. It’s an opportunity for enthusiastic young people – tomorrow’s scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers – to embrace their “inner nerd” with hundreds of other like-minded programmers-in-training. Each team of three was tasked with tackling a programming challenge – using their brains and books. No mobile devices or Wi-Fi allowed during the competition (although HPE did hold drawings afterwards for free computers, laptops, gift cards and other goodies).

I’m gratified, but not surprised, by the vast numbers of HPE employees who eagerly volunteer for this event. You can see it in their eyes … employees are tremendously enriched by engaging with these eager your students. The kids are excited by the opportunity to show off their programming and coding skills, and so are the grown-up kids in attendance (me, included!). It’s fun to be involved in something that matters so much, and that we can see is making a real difference.

For the teachers and mentors who dedicated so much time and energy to get their teams ready for the event, it’s a huge reward to see their students participate. The support and encouragement they provide is life-changing for many students, and it’s rewarding for me to know this event can help drive that in any way.

Yes, we had official winners – in Houston, a team from Suncoast Community High School of Riviera Beach, Florida, took top honors in the Novice division; while Richardson (Texas) High School earned first place in the Advanced division.

But more importantly, we had students, teachers, parents, HPE employees and an army of volunteers reveling in the challenges and joys that come with problem-solving – while dressed in costumes that spanned just about every type of superhero and cultural icon imaginable. A special shout out and thank you to Wireless Nerd who drove in from South Texas!

The fact that the participants represented so many schools, states and economic/ethnic backgrounds was icing on the cake (yes, we had plenty of desserts, too!).

I’d say the future of STEM looks quite bright. Plus, it literally looks quite different from those who attended CodeWars.

And that’s a very good thing.