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On Saturday, 60 high school students from around Wisconsin participated in Project Boolean, a computer programming competition organized by Middleton High School senior, Balaji Veeramani.

The University of Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery hosted the four-hour competition.

Teams of one to four students were tasked with solving 14 problems, increasing in difficulty as they progressed through the set. The team that solved the most problems in the shortest amount of time won the competition.

A team of juniors from Madison West High School including Langston Nashold, Anna Arpaci-Dusseau and Felix Jiang won first place and each received a Google Home mini. 

Balaji, 17, said he started Project Boolean because there was no statewide computer science competition for high school students. He wanted to provide his peers with the opportunity to come together around their common interest.

“I have always been interested in computer science. When I entered high school, I was disappointed by the lack of opportunities for students interested in (information technology),” Balaji said. “My goal is to introduce these opportunities for high school students. ... It is the culmination of a vision for students interested in programming.”

Balaji said pulling together the event for the first time was not easy. He worked with his computer science teacher at Middleton, Laurie Hunt, to personally contact other computer science teachers around the state and encourage them to bring their students.

Project Boolean hosted students from local high schools like West, East, Memorial, Verona and McFarland, and students from as far away as Ashland High School, five hours northwest of the city.

Balaji said he wanted Project Boolean to be accessible to all students, even those just starting out with programming. The problems ranged from simple tasks, like printing “Hello World” to the screen, and complex issues requiring algorithms.

“The problems require students to analyze and use computational thinking to arrive at a solution,” Balaji said. “There are students of many skill levels attending the event, both beginners and experts at computer science. Regardless of skill, (students) can participate.”

Charlie Murty, director of information technology at CUNA Mutual Group, addressed students at the beginning of Saturday’s competition. He encouraged students and told them that companies are always looking to employ people with their skill set and passion.

“When you think about your career and where you want to go, the sky's the limit,” he said. “There is a war for talent going on amongst companies looking for smart people who are passionate about what they want to do.... The future is yours to write.”

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Balaji believes competitions like Project Boolean are important since computer science is a growing field with infinite opportunities for students to showcase their skills and creativity.

“Computer science and information technology are huge fields, pushing the boundaries of what we can do in society,” he said.

“Having a competition of this nature, we can increase and promote interests in IT and develop other talents.”

Balaji plans to hold at least one more competition before he graduates and bring college students into the mix.

“I think it is important for events like this continue,” he said. “This is my last year in high school, but it is my hope to hold a similar event in the spring for college students. ... Programming competitions are missing at the collegiate level.”