A coding mastermind in the making

Massive congratulations to Jacques Amsel in Grade 10 – he placed 6th (bronze award) in South Africa at the 2020 SA Programming Olympiad finals!
DSK journalist, Imaan Asmal, interviewed Jacques on his success:

As the Editor-in-Chief for the DSK Journalism Society, I had the pleasure of conducting an informal interview with Jacques Amsel, our 2020 Programming Olympiad medallist. Congratulations Jacques! We’re all immensely proud of you.

What prestigious prize have you recently won?
I won the Bronze award in the South African Programming Olympiad (i.e. the top 6)

Could you explain exactly what this prize is about for those of us who are not familiar with computer technology?
The South African Programming Olympiad (SAPO) is a competition for teenagers in high school to compete in competitive programming. Competitive programming mostly involves creating algorithms to answer problems and less input/output work than traditional programming.

How many other students were you competing against?
I’m not sure about the total number of participants in the first round, but the final round consisted of 13 people.

How did you feel before sitting down to tackle the Olympiad?
I’ve participated before so I knew mostly what to expect but I was still nervous.

What was your reaction when you heard the results?
I was surprised because I expected to do worse than some of the other competitors who beat me last year.

Is there anyone in else in your family who has a talent for computer programming?
My mother teaches computer programming and robotics to school children with Club Electron (https://clubelectron.net) and my brother took part in the competition as well.

Computer programming is a unique skill. When did you first “click” with it and what is it that you like about it?
I’m not exactly sure when I actually “clicked” with programming itself, but in Grade 5 and 6, I took part in the FLL with a team of friends representing Club Electron. I was the lead programmer for one of those years – I forget which one.

Much of the world has been forced to transfer their daily lives to online technology this year of Covid-19. What are your thoughts about this?
I hope the push to “e-everything” drives meaningful progress in the IT world, but I think at the moment, it slows down the rate of learning, working, etc. because many people are not yet familiar with technology. I think working online has been less efficient than working with paper, but as people’s experience grows, I believe working with technology will become more efficient than “traditional” work.

What are your future aspirations in computer programming?
I’m not sure, I may attend university, but I don’t have solid plans yet.

What advice would you give to younger learners who would like to study computer programming?
Find a project you’re passionate about and dedicate a couple of weeks to completing that project. I think the best way to get into programming is not by following tutorials, but by trying to solve a problem.