(Don't downvote me because I am grey or because the topic of this blog is somewhat unusual. Please read and see whether you can help me out...) Hi,
My name is Suguru and I am a high school senior. I am applying to UT Austin for CS and I am working on an essay question where I am thinking of writing about competitive programming. But I am stuck. Here is the prompt:
The core purpose of The University of Texas at Austin is, "To Transform Lives for the Benefit of Society." Please share how you believe your experience at UT-Austin will prepare you to “Change the World” after you graduate. (250-300words)
My thoughts: 1. Firstly, I am writing this blog on Codeforces not to get specific essay advice about essay structure and whatnot. I should do that with a college counselor. I want your thoughts on how competitive programming could be relevant to answering this prompt.
That being said, I think it might be helpful for you guys to understand what is being asked in this essay. I read some articles like this one: https://texadmissions.com/blog/2021/7/9/tips-and-examples-for-please-share-how-you-believe-your-experience-at-ut-austin-will-prepare-you-to-change-the-world-after-you-graduate. Basically, the prompt is asking me about my vision and values. What do I want to do in the future and how will UT Austin help me achieve that? It would be a bonus if I can demonstrate my past experience/interest in the goal I write about since it makes the essay strong and convincing.
What I initially did was go to the UT Austin CS website and look at all the "exciting research/inventions" that are happening. Find out something I am interested in doing and tell how UT Austin will help me do that and build a nice story.
However, I think the problem with this approach is that if I barely have any idea about whatever research I am looking at, how am I supposed to demonstrate my interest or my determination to advance in that field. Moreover, since I don't have a genuine interest in that field (at least yet), I don't have past experiences related to such a field. I could read about breakthrough research about AI or about electric cars but if I really have no idea what is going on then it would be so hard to write a nice story about my interest in it.
After realizing this, I kind of gave up on subjects that I haven't explored before. It takes years to have a REALLY good idea about a topic and have the slightest potential to "Change the World".
Then I thought of competitive programming. Though I am grey, I have dedicated 6+months practicing and I have a genuine passion for it. I actually can talk about specific ambitions I have in the future (e.g. I want to join the ACM-ICPC team of whichever college I am attending). CP is like the only thing I actually had a genuine interest in (I never explored fields like machine learning in-depth. This is because I was a total idiot in my grades 9, 10, and beginning of 11th that I never really thought about anything. Basically, I did homework but other than that, I was goofing off).
But as I evaluated whether CP will be a good essay topic for "Change the World" essays, I thought it might not work that well. I think of competitive programming as a sport. Athletes follow existing rules and keep improving their skills. It is like competitive programmers who regularly attend the same contests and practice the pre-existing algorithms and solve problems that have pre-existing solutions. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that. But based on my understanding, competitive programmers aren't necessarily "innovative" people. They are competitive people working to improve on a "sport". They aren't working towards a breakthrough discovery.
But then I thought, how can competitive programmers affect the world indirectly? The easiest example where competitive programming has a real-world connection is its relation to technical interviews. Aspiring software engineers and competitive programmers fueled the growth of businesses like Codeforces and Leetcode.
But will it directly be the competitive programmers that are making an impact in this case? I think of it as competitive programmers just focusing on their own thing (getting good at competitions, getting into top companies) and people around them looking at competitive programmers and taking it as an opportunity to grow their online platform (like Codeforces and Leetcode). Competitive programmers play a role in this advancement, but they aren't the innovators, so to speak. Bringing back the athlete comparison: the Olympics have a massive impact on tourism, economy, journalism, etc. But is it really the athletes that are causing this change? Is it even the athletes' intention to make a huge impact on the economy? Probably not. They are just focused on getting that medal and improving on their sport. Obviously, athletes can say that by pursuing their sport they are "Changing the World" but I think the impact is less direct. It is more like people look at athletes and take it as an opportunity to grow their business etc and make an impact. The same idea may apply to competitive programming (with online platforms like Codeforces etc). But competitive programming is less popular than sports and by just grinding on problems, I feel like I am not making an intentional or unintentional impact on the world. I am just practicing for my own sake. Not to "Change the world".
Having read my thoughts, please share some ideas about the impact of competitive programming in the real world, whether I am thinking in the right direction, etc.