Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bemley Scholar Pooja Chebula Matriculates to University of Southern California

Pooja Chebula
Pooja Chebula is a 3-time member of the national high school computer competition (HSCC) team trained by our BDPA Los Angeles. She earned a Dr. Jesse Bemley Scholarship for the high-level of performance with her team in the 2012 and 2013 HSCC championships. Pooja informed us of her enrollment to the University of Southern California (Class of 2018) seeking her degree in Computer Science and Business Administration.

Pooja is fascinated with creating technology to help society. She is intrigued by methods to mine and correlate data to revolutionize dimensions of information management, especially as applied to health care. She wants to help ensure that the society we build with the Internet is the sort we intend. Dreams are the sine qua non of success and by joining a creative enterprise that encourages "out of the box" thinking, Pooja seeks to discover her passions and help engineer a brighter, healthier, and sustainable tomorrow.

We asked Pooja to share remembrances of her BDPA experiences with us:

My life had been overtaken by a virus. A computer virus, that is.

Los Angeles (2011)
In January, 2011, I enrolled in an extracurricular computer programming course sponsored by BDPA. Little did I imagine that only a few months later, bitten by the computer bug and effectively enamored of coding, I would serve as the program manager for the Los Angeles High School Computer Competition (HSCC) team and lead our chapter to several regional victories. As we qualified for the national HSCC, our instructors had high expectations that, for the first time in our chapter's history, we would discover our Midas touch and bring home the golden trophy. The thought of partaking in a national competition was quite daunting in itself, but being expected to win while competing against experienced teams made the journey a stressful one.

2011 HSCC Team
As we entered Chicago's Hilton hotel for the opening session of the national conference, we certainly felt like the underdogs. The HSCC consisted of three sections: an oral, written, and programming portion. While our team flew through the first two sections, we faced grave difficulties in the programming portion. The 2011 business case called for the development of a custom Laptop purchasing application akin to At first glance, I was relieved to note that we were capable of executing nearly all of the functionality requirements. As we delved into the actual coding, however, I discovered that the case was far more complex than it had initially seemed. Cut off from the rest of the world and without access to the Internet, we were trapped: we simply did not understand the presented database schema. Unable to create the application without a clear understanding of the database relations, we essentially accepted defeat within the first few hours of the competition and solely coded preliminary pages of the site that did not involve convoluted database linkages. Naturally, we were shellacked in the competition, emerging a petty fourteenth place out of seventeen competing teams.

As project manager, I felt especially guilty as we landed in LAX and prepared to relay the news of our disappointing loss to our eagerly awaiting parents. I had failed my team: some of my teammates not only bid goodbye to one another, but they also left the programming field altogether. In striving for the prize, we had lost sight of the bigger picture, of valuing our newly acquired programming knowledge and enjoying our HSCC experience. Engulfed in the minute details of database linkages, I had led my team astray. Had I instead encouraged my team to build the entire application with dummy pages, we might have demonstrated our programming aptitude and felt content with our efforts. With one decision stemming from my poor lack of judgment, eight months of our toil had been rendered worthless.

As I ruminated over our performance in the following months, I noted that while mistakes are a part of life, we certainly had learned much from the experience. Practice does make perfect, and our team simply was not ready to compete against accomplished programmers: we were severely inhibited by our lack of programming experience. I was naturally disappointed with the news of our placement, but my rather embarrassing loss gave me the motivation to expand my programming skill set and the tenacity to adapt and implement various solutions.
2012 HSCC Team
As our newly woven team strove for contentment rather than accolades in the 2012 HSCC, success naturally followed suit such that we emerged as the third place winners and the year after secured first place in programming (second overall). If you learn from a loss, I discovered through the 2011 HSCC, you have not failed. As Richard Bach aptly concludes, "Losing, in a curious way, is winning."

National HSCC Silver Medalists (2013)

It had taken three years to truly implement the lessons from my failure, but I finally emerged victorious.

Once bitten, thrice shy, I suppose!

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