High School Teacher Launches Students into Computer-World Big Leagues

By Harbottle, Tyler | The Canadian Press, May 26, 2013 | Go to article overview

High School Teacher Launches Students into Computer-World Big Leagues


Harbottle, Tyler, The Canadian Press


Teacher helps students become whiz kids

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VANCOUVER - When Robert Arkiletian heard Google was interested in interviewing him for a computer programming job, he wasn't interested.

He told the Google recruiter, who found Arkiletian's work posted in online forums, that he wasn't the type of person the company was looking for and that he already had a job he loved.

He's known as "Mr. Ark" to the students he teaches computer programming to at Eric Hamber Secondary School, where programming prodigies are winning national competitions and 17-year-old whiz kids are confused with graduate-level computer scientists.

"I've got the best job in the world," Arkiletian said. "When I get up in the morning and come to work, I'm going to work to have fun. In some ways I'm not that different from the kids. I'm still a kid at heart.

"When you become passionate about (computer) programming, it's kind of like, I know this sounds really odd, but it's almost like a different way of life."

The technical skills that got him noticed by Internet giant Google for one of the most sought-after computer programming jobs are no match for his passion for teaching.

"Every time I learn something new, my passion level starts bubbling over and I share that with my students," Arkiletian said.

His students have recently competed in a national programming competition called the Canadian Computing Competition, at the University of Waterloo.

Grade 10 students Jasper Chapman-Black, Phillip Wong, Emmanuel Sales and Grade 9 student Ari Blondal all aced the test, getting perfect scores in their attempts to build a piece of software capable of answering a series of questions.

"The questions are not like math test questions where you are given a specific scenario and you have to solve for X, for example," Chapman-Black said.

"In the Canadian Computing Competition what you're doing is creating a computer program that is going to solve all problems of a particular type for you," he said.

The Waterloo competition is the top test of Canadian high school programming skills.

"I usually just cross my fingers and I hope that I have one student that will do well on it because so many students compete in it," Arkiletian said. "This year, the fact that I had four students do perfect on the junior exam, was, in some ways, very lucky. The kids deserve all the credit."

Cary Wang, 17, and 18-year-old Ulysses Zheng are students in Arkiletian's senior programming class.

In addition to competing against other high school programming students, the duo pitted their skills against university-level programmers in a contest put on by Simon Fraser University in February.

Arkiletian said Eric Hamber was the only high school competing, and it wasn't uncommon to hear confused contestants asking: "Where is Eric Hamber University?"

Wang and Zheng placed 21st out of 44 contestants, and both have gone on to create their own commercial-grade software. …

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