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Proud Moments for Computer Programmer

Sushain Cherivirala and his dad Ramesh at IBM headquarters in New York.

Sushain Cherivirala and his dad Ramesh at IBM headquarters in New York.

IBM, Google, And Dulles Student Sushain Cherivirala 

By Cindy Ziervogel

Sushain Cherivirala writes code, completes sophisticated computer tasks, fixes bugs, builds hardware and walks away with huge wins from contests sponsored by industry heavyweights such as IBM and Google. All in a day’s work. More like months really. Many, many months of highly technical work.

In fact, thousands of students have participated in these contests, and probably thousands more have tried and left the work unfinished. Others have just thought about entering. That’s what happens with these challenging projects that require long hours and an even longer determination.

Sushain, a Dulles High School junior at FBISD’s Math and Science Academy, thrives on hard work and results. His results list is long and impressive, but if out of everything he’s accomplished he had to pick what he’s most proud of he has two answers: the work he did in the Google Code-In contest, and educating the next generation of students through the Drabek Computer Science Club.

Drabek is Sushain’s alma mater. Elementary school alma mater, that is. And the computer science club was his idea. He wanted to increase computer literacy in young students so he developed a curriculum that introduced fifth- graders to modern web development fundamentals. Sushain was in the fifth grade when his love of computer programming was sparked.

Next, he approached the principal with his plan. She told him if he could find two sponsors, it was a “go.” So he asked his fifth-grade teacher and another teacher to sponsor, and the club was on its way. Sushain was the only instructor.

Getting in wasn’t necessarily a sure bet for the young coder-wannabes. At the start of the school year Sushain prepared an online application of student questions and teacher recommendations. More than 60 students applied. Sushain applied a mathematical formula based on their application answers to choose the final 20 club members, the size the school’s computer lab could accommodate.

“I was looking for effort and suitability for the club,” Sushain said.

The club met twice a month and the kids were enthusiastic. Sushain thought it was a success and plans to continue the program next year, but with a renovated curriculum based on student suggestions and his own observations.

“I think the kids have absorbed valuable insights into the inner-workings of the Internet. I heard one student say that she would make her own website during the summer. I’m pleased with that. Seeing the students learn and watching the light bulb go off for them has been very fulfilling for me.”

Sushain has been just as helpful to his middle school, Quail Valley.

“It’s annoying to me when I see things I know a computer program could do faster and more efficiently,” Sushain said. “I like to use the skills I have to help others.”

And so he has, for just about anyone who asks. For instance, he took a very specialized computer program he developed last year for his high school math club’s competition and renovated it to fit the needs of the middle school.

Gwen Curtis, a math teacher at Quail Valley Academy for Gifted and Talented, taught Sushain a couple of years ago and knew what he was capable of. He had the intellect and the skills. More importantly, he believed in helping others so she decided to ask him if he would take his original program and adapt it to the needs of a Texas Math and Science Coaches Association (TMSCA) regional meet her school was sponsoring.

“He immediately started working on it,” Curtis said.

Sushain estimated he spent about 150 hours developing his original program and then another 75 hours to retrofit it to the needs of the middle school competition. He recruited some of his friends from his school’s chapter of the National Math Honors Society to help with data entry and registration. The end result was a product that efficiently registered, scored and ranked 400 kids at the tournament. But more importantly, he had a program that TMSCA could use to expedite any competition in the future.

In fact, Sushain was so confident the program had far-reaching capabilities that he emailed tournament coaches and offered it to them.

“I contacted them to introduce myself. I provided links to the website in case they missed it and asked for any suggestions they had for improvement or issues they encountered while using the system. A few coaches expressed interest in using the system for next year’s tournaments.”

Not only has Sushain used his computer skills to help improve technology at his elementary, middle and high schools, he’s proven he can get the attention of the big-name companies.

Last year he came in third in the IBM Master the Mainframe contest. It’s one of IBM’s ways to get high school kids interested and excited about mainframe computing. And for many Gen Z students (today’s high school and college- aged kids) it starts with educating them to a type of computer programming that’s quite different than what they’re used to. Mainframes, around for decades, are computers that can support thousands of applications and input/output devices to simultaneously serve thousands of users and are still popular in industries such as banking, finance, healthcare, and insurance industries as well as government.

The contest had three parts; the final part was the most challenging. Tasks were taken from real life situations encountered by experienced systems programmers.

Sushain beat out more than 4,000 other kids and was the youngest top-five finisher to date. He won prizes and was interviewed for an article in IBM’s online magazine, www.ibmsystemsmag.com (March/April 2014).

But after all the hard work he put into the contest, and after all the accolades and prizes he received, what really got him excited was his opportunity to explore the IBM headquarters in New York. Sushain took the three-day tour with his dad, Ramesh.

They met with engineers, listened to speeches made by company executives on their unique perspectives of the business, and toured multiple facilities. And even though most of the contest was about software, Sushain was thrilled to see all the hardware.

“I really like software programming, but I really love hardware,” he said. In fact, Sushain said he plans to major in computer science and computer engineering.

This year, Sushain is wearing a different type of computer programming badge, one from Google. He is a grand prize winner in the Google Code-In contest. The seven-week contest introduced high school kids to the many kinds of contributions that make open source software development possible. Open source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared by anyone. Contestants completed tasks for one of the 10 open source organizations preselected by Google. Sushain chose to work with Apertium, an organization that provides a language translation program.

“I’m not a linguist and have no intentions to enter the field of computational linguistics in the future, but it’s an intriguing and rewarding field of study,” Sushain said.

Each of the 10 open source organizations chose two students to be their grand prize winners based on their comprehensive body of work.

Twenty students, each with a parent, flew to Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters for a four-night trip. Sushain and his dad talked with Google engineers, took part in an awards ceremony and enjoyed time exploring San Francisco. Best of all, according to Sushain, was making new friends also interested in technology and open source development.

Besides the obvious benefits of succeeding handsomely in these two big computer contests, Sushain learned something about himself: a discovery of what he does not want to do as much as what he does in his future career. First, what he wants to do is manage a team of engineers devoted to exploring cutting-edge technology ventures in both hardware and software.

“I would like to manage the team so that I could oversee the development of revolutionary technology that will eventually shape the world as we know it,” he said.

And for his list of job don’ts?

“I don’t want the burden of budgetary restrictions and I don’t want to abandon either fascination (software or hardware) once I enter the workforce.”

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