Girls Programming League inspires female students to compete in annual programming competition


Sabrina Zhu

Panelists Dr. Pei Cao, Jenny Lin, Lynn Root and Pavitra Rengarajan (’12) speak at the Girls Programming League Challenge on Saturday. The event invited female and nonbinary identifying students to participate and followed a theme of computer science and entertainment.

by Ella Yee and Catherine Wong

Garnering 76 teams across 45 schools and a total of 120 participants, the Girls Programming League (GPL) and the Harker Programming Club (HPC) co-hosted the fourth annual GPL challenge through Zoom on Saturday to promote interest in computer science among female and nonbinary students. 

The event, following the theme of computer science and entertainment, consisted of a programming competition between teams of up to three middle or high school students and speaker sessions. Students could choose to participate in both activities or to only attend the latter. 

“[The GPL challenge] is a programming competition geared towards girls in middle school and high school,” HPC co-president, Alexa Lowe (12), said. “It not only encourages them to try out competitive programming but also to hear about professionals who have chosen a career in computer science.” 

The challenge began at 8:00 a.m. with a two-hour long competition. Students of all programming skill levels could attend, and the competition was split into two divisions: novice and advanced. Each team of students had 90 minutes to solve a set of ten programming problems, with novice and advanced teams working on different problem sets.

After the morning competition concluded, Shobana Radhakrishnan, Director of Engineering at Google’s Android TV, delivered a keynote speech. In her address, Radhakrishnan discussed her journey in computer science, challenges she faced along her career path and the skills she gained through these experiences. 

“I liked how the keynote speaker was really honest about her journey in CS,” novice division participant Juliana Li (9) said. “She said that she made a lot of mistakes, but it was all part of the learning process.” 

In the afternoon, participants had the opportunity to engage in an interactive panel session with Dr. Pei Cao, Lynn Root, Jenny Lin and Pavitra Rengarajan (‘12), leaders at Youtube Search, Spotify, Netflix and Instagram respectively. During the session, panelists spoke on technical topics, such as ranking and recommendation systems, and their personal experiences as women in the computer science industry. 

“This year, if [participants] listened to the panels and the keynote session, they were able to get a good idea of why the panelists chose their professions,” Alexa said. “I think that’s good information to help you figure out what you’d like to do in the future.”

The event concluded with an awards ceremony to recognize the winners of each division, who received monetary gift cards.

Officers of GPL and HPC invested time and effort into organizing the event behind the scenes, beginning in the summer and continuing into the days before the challenge. While the front end team focused on publicizing the event and organizing registration, the back end team wrote contest questions and tested the grading system.

Even with the preparation, unexpected factors out of the officers’ controlled to a server crash with the contest’s grading system, but the officers were quick to brainstorm solutions to the problem and adapt to the circumstances.

“It was amazing how fast the officers were brainstorming how to deal with [the server crash],” said Susan King, upper school computer science teacher and HPC adviser. “We have remarkable people who have given a lot of energy to this effort for mostly people they don’t know.”