Tech Challenge Flashback: Finalist Q&A with Ben Walters

We’re excited to partner with the Illinois Tech Association (ITA) as we strive to help students get access to more great opportunities. Below is a blog recently published by the ITA, highlighting one of their premier events, the Tech Challenge. For anyone interested in programming, this could be for you. Enjoy!

​As ITA gears up for the 2016 Tech Challenge — kicking off this autumn — we’re looking back at last year’s challenge to see what impact the program has had on its participants and the Chicago tech community. So we caught up with Tech Challenge alum Benjamin Walters, a third-year computer-science undergrad at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Benjamin was one of the 48 qualifying students accepted into the 2015 Final Challenge, a position he leveraged into a summer internship with Tech Challenge sponsor Trustwave. Benjamin spoke with us about what brought him to the Tech Challenge, what he learned from the experience, and the advice he would give to future Tech Challenge participants.

ITA: How did you hear about the Tech Challenge?

Benjamin: I heard about it through an email announcement sent by the IIT Computer Science Department Coordinator, Ann McBroom. It caught my attention because there aren’t too many individual coding challenges that are actually on campus that you can sign up for as an individual, rather than as part of a team.

ITA: Why did you decide to participate?

Benjamin: It seemed like a fun coding challenge. I’d participated in a team coding challenge run by Microsoft the year before and enjoyed it, but I was specifically interested in competing in Tech Challenge as an individual.

ITA: What’s one challenge you had to overcome during the Tech Challenge?

Benjamin: Outside of a couple of interviews, I had never had such a short time limit to solve quick coding questions. I didn’t have a lot of time to practice for Tech Challenge, but I had been studying for interviews, so I’d practiced coding questions for that. The Tech Challenge questions are pretty similar to interview questions, so it was good practice for interviews as well.

ITA: In your opinion, what was the best quality of the Tech Challenge?

Benjamin: Definitely the interviews that are available to all finalists. I talked with five companies, including Backstop, Morningstar, and Trustwave, where I ended up getting a summer internship.

ITA: How did the Tech Challenge affect your coding skills?

Benjamin: Practicing for the final challenge definitely helped me with my interview coding skills, since it is similar to interview coding questions.

ITA: What did you learn from the challenge?

Benjamin: I learned how to quickly attack a problem and code a solution to it.

ITA: If you could give a classmate interested in participating in the Tech Challenge your best piece of advice, what would it be?

Benjamin: Just practice similar coding challenges online. HackerRank has countless challenge questions and even timed challenges. If I were doing Tech Challenge again, I definitely would have spent more time on there practicing.

ITA: What was your biggest concern coming into the Tech Challenge?

Benjamin: I was worried that I wouldn’t complete a single question in the challenge. I ended up completing around four and a half, and I’m fairly happy with that. If I had practiced more with HackerRank, I probably would have done better.

ITA: What was your biggest accomplishment after completing the Tech Challenge?

Benjamin: I was able to go from a simple coding challenge on my campus to an interview that led me to a summer internship, working in a software-development role at Trustwave.

ITA: If you could describe your Tech Challenge experience in 3 words or less, how would you describe it?

Benjamin: Great, fun, practice