My Experience at HPE CodeWars 2018

Over 750 high-school level programming enthusiasts spent their Saturday at the HPE campus in Houston, Texas competing with teams from across the US and World for trophies, freebies, and a chance to show off their skills.

Anytime someone asks you what you did this weekend it usually doesn’t begin with “I spent my weekend with about 800 computer programming students from high schools across the United States”, but that’s exactly what I did this weekend.

I was absolutely privileged to be a part of HPE Code Wars 2018. HPE Code Wars is a 21-year-old program put together by HPE Employees and volunteers to showcase, highlight, and challenge high-school level students. They use their programming and coding skills to compete head-to-head with people from across the state, the nation, and across the world. From Florida to Texas and Barcelona to Beaumont, this competition took place in Houston with over 750 students grouped together into teams of three. As soon as 9:00 a.m. hit, the questions were handed out to each one of the teams, the Wi-Fi was shut down, and students relied on their brains and books, whatever supplies they brought with them some, and the power of their team to answers 21 carefully crafted challenges.

Thank You Teachers, Administrators, and Parents

There aren’t enough thank yous and handshakes that can be given in the direction of the administration, teachers, parents and chaperones that encouraged these students and those who attended. When a student wants to challenge themselves and compete at a statewide and national level in any traditional sport the districts bend over backwards to get those trophies, but the same can’t be said for computer science competitions. I spoke with administrators who had students not just asking and begging to be a part of this competition, but some who even went out of their way to create sponsorship packets and business cards to lobby friends, family, and the community to help get them there.

Thank You to HPE for Doing This

To echo the words of one of the senior HPE employees and volunteers, “Our job is to give out a yes” when talking about supporting Code Wars from an organizational level. And I think the same thing should be applied to the educators and administrators at campuses. If a child wants to compete in something that they find fun and essential, it shouldn’t be limited to traditional activities. I mean, obviously within reason, but if a student wants to compete in a competition that will help them further their education and start a career, why would a teacher or school district not be behind that?

When Scott Harsany started Code Wars 21 years ago it wasn’t easy. Getting that “yes” was a great first step, and 87 students at the first event was a great way to begin. Now, look where it is. Over 750 students, around 250 teams, from close to 100 districts.

It’s an amazing thing that they’ve done and HPE stands behind these students. So many volunteers showed up on their day off to come participate in this. HPE gave out raffle items of computers, laptops, huge screens, printers, gift cards, and more. It was phenomenal for the students to see a company like HPE, one the largest computer and tech companies in the world, contributing to the success of these students.

Code Wars is More Than Just an Annual Saturday Morning Competition

It’s more than just freebies, and the students recognize that. When you have some of the CTOs of these business units show up and talk passionately about why they’re there and what it’s like to work there, it resonates much deeper. The laptops are awesome, but the opportunity that some students jumped on was even more amazing.

“Use your skills to graduate and get a job back here at HPE and you won’t have to worry about winning a raffle for one of these laptops” Gordon Bellamy, the keynote guest, educator, and renowned Video Game executive said to the group. The icing on the cake for the students was when HPE brought out representatives from their HR department and allowed the students to submit their resumes and pre-apply for summer internships and job positions that are currently open at HPE.

How the Industry Can Help Help Educators and Districts

As the students hammered away at their code, the teachers and academic groups that were involved got a unique opportunity to have an open forum with HPE executives, a panel of entrepreneurs, and industry guests (including me! :))

Discussing the future potential of the students in attendance, one of my favorite things said was “Every table of three out there is a software startup.” Gordon Bellamy noted “they just don’t know it yet” as he encouraged educators to keep pushing their students to do more with their skills than just compete.

Teachers and administrators got to provide feedback to HPE on how they could help their districts realize the potential of this event and echoed difficulties at their campuses. “Give us all Chromebooks” one person half-jokingly said. “What if the student doesn’t have access?” another teacher responded. “How about low-cost laptops?” an HPE volunteer volleyed to applause.

Marketing material, data sheets and things to take back to the districts got many heads nodding in the audience. It seems that there is still a bit of gap trying to stress the importance of events like this and those that were there were not shy of asking for help. Sometimes it goes deeper than just information and encouragement. “We can’t install Unity on our workstations because of IT policies” a teacher mentioned. “We are only approved to teach Scratch at the high-school level” a frustrated teacher said.” I shook my head and asked her for the district name so I could line-up a chat with them. A little embarrassed, she said “we don’t have to get into all that.”

Challenge #1, Get to HPE Code Wars

Through more than a few examples teachers discussed how the path to HPE Code Wars has been challenge in and of itself. “You’ve got to hack the system” I mentioned to one of my CodeRGV’ers who came to the event with me when asking me how I got an extra cookie. The same can be said for those of you trying to get your students to Code Wars. Figure it out. Don’t let the kids have all the fun. “It’s a UIL warm-up event” one teacher mentioned “that’s how we termed it to get approval” … Apparently they even got a bus when they worded it like that!

Regardless of how or why these 750+ students got to the outskirts of Houston on that Saturday morning, they made it. If you’re a high-school level educator or administrator, if you’re the parent of a high schooler, if you’re anyone who’s interested in having your kid get involved, make it happen. Apply to get a team to HPE Code Wars and start to really kick in to high gear what you’re doing to challenge these students to become the great minds that we know they’re gonna be.

HPE thank you for having me out there. I appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to this. It was a tremendous weekend.

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