Computer Programming is an avenue which until very recently has remained largely unexplored in India at the school level. Although it’s easy to find computer departments in almost every school, yet, to find students with a comprehensive understanding of algorithms and coding is extremely rare.
One instance where a student got early exposure is the story of Sidhant Bansal, or sidhant007 (full marks for stylized username) as he’s known on the pages of CodeChef. Like his counterparts with more exposure in Russia or China, and unlike so many Indians, Sidhant received early exposure to the field of competitive programming and began his journey somewhere in 8th grade.
Under the wings of a Mentor
Fortunately for him, Sidhant had access to something that most lack- a mentor. A senior, Yash, at his school agreed to take him under his wing, provided Sidhant first solves the initial 25 questions of Project Euler. Sidhant recalls the experience as a “fun exercise” and evidently enough, there was no looking behind for him after that.
Sidhant recounts how after some time Yash helped him to move onto more proper judges such as CodeChef, Codeforces, and WCIPEG. “In 9th grade, I took my first attempt at Zonal Informatics Olympiad (ZIO) and was lucky enough to be able to clear it,” Sidhant reveals. Unfortunately, though, he couldn’t make it past the next level, the Indian National Olympiad in Informatics (INOI). But quite remarkably, he didn’t let this experience dampen his passion for Competitive Programming, and persistently kept at it throughout his 10th grade.
The sheer fun of problem-solving is what drove Sidhant during this stage and kept him persistently at competitive programming. Not to mention, right around this time he found a group of friends in his school, DPS Dwarka, who matched him in enthusiasm and determination to crack INOI. So, together they prepped for the exam, and incidentally, all of them were able to clear it.
At the Training Camp
And then came the IOI-Training Camp. In some sense, his experience at the camp, which he describes as “revelatory” and “deeply humbling”, is what largely shaped his future endeavors/forays in competitive programming. “You are surrounded by some of the most passionate students in algorithms and mathematics in IOI-TC. I think the Training Camp played a very important role in inspiring me and [it helped me to] see people do great things over there.”
Trying to climb through the ranks of IOI-TC in the next two years was arguably the hardest period for Sidhant. His break came, and that too, at his last possible go, in the 12th grade. He managed to finish in the top 4, and so secured a ticket to IOI. Before this, even though he qualified for the Training Camp two times, he never managed to secure a top 4 rank. He goes on to stress on one’s need to have a good amount of self-confidence no matter how prepared or unprepared one is.
Sidhant, time and again, mentions encountering some truly gifted students along the way that greatly influenced his own personal trajectory. Be it fellow competitive programming enthusiasts at school, or the brilliant students he met at IOI-TC, these encounters widened his worldview and vastly contributed to his learning as an individual.
IOI at Last
Unsurprisingly so then, that it was at IOI finally that he realized that: “Although, competitive programming stands for doing programming as a sport and competitively but I finally understood that it is not all about the competition. It is also about appreciating what others have achieved in terms of skills through immense hard work, intellect and passion.”
And subsequently, Sidhant walked away from the IOI experience, a bronze medal around his neck, but more importantly, as a more humble and respectful person. It was being at the global stage, amidst the best programmers in the world, that made him realise the need for self improvement, and hard work that comes along with it.
Beginning to prepare under a senior in school, to landing a medal at IOI, there is indeed a lot to learn from the transformative journey Sidhant underwent. India’s journey at IOI includes only one gold medal which we won in 2014. We at CodeChef want this number to increase by enabling every school student who is a programming enthusiast to become a part of ICO. We are doing this by enabling school students who are enthusiastic about computer programming to participate in ICO. We invite you to help us in this initiative by spreading awareness among students, their parents and teachers around you.