What are Computer Science Contests?
Computer Science contests are huge in Texas. Basically, you have a contest every two weeks if you live in Houston or the surrounding area. In the fall, the contest season starts in early October with the 7 Lakes Kick-off Classic which starts the whole contest circuit. The season wraps up each year in May with the UIL State Academic Meet Computer Science Contest. This state contest is the culmination of all of the local contests.
Each contest typically has a programming component and a written test component. The programming component consists of a packet of problems that each team must attempt to solve. A standard packet will have 12 problems. A more expanded packet may have 18. Each local contest has the option to create their own packet and set the number of problems. The UIL Computer Science Contest, a statewide contest in Texas, has 12 problems so that is the number most local contests go with. The written component consists of a 40 question multiple-choice test. Test questions focus on logic, algorithms, data-structures, and language features. All tests used in Texas use Java as the testing language.
Why take teams to contests?
Contests force students into a real team environment with the added pressure of finite time. Most programming contests only last two hours and only allow teams to use one computer. Teams must learn how to share a single computer and work together in a timed environment to solve problems. Students learn valuable teamwork and problem-solving skills in these settings each and every time they compete.
Another benefit is that many large software companies use similar problems for interviewing purposes as those often seen in contest packets. A common programming problem often involves determining if an exit from a maze exists. A former student of mine was asked to explain solving this exact problem when interviewing for a Google position.
Winning is contagious! Get a few students to go compete and actually win and your enrollment will spike upwards. All students want to be a part of a winner.
How do I get involved?
If you are in Texas, check my contest dates page. Several Texas contests are already posted. If you are in another state, find out who hosts contests or host your own. Check out my site for information on hosting your own contest.
Looking forward to next year
The contest season here in Texas just wrapped up. It was a ton of fun and I look forward to what next year holds. Good luck!