Between 28 August and 4 September, the world’s most promising minds will move to the City of Sunshine as Szeged hosts the most prestigious and largest student programming competition, the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), where the young titans of the field will prove their skills. But there’s much more to this competition than just talented minds shining. As IOI Secretary John-Paul Pretti told us in our interview, the event is a great opportunity for young people to meet like-minded talent, to make friends and even to forge fruitful professional relationships.
John-Paul Pretti already has a lot of experience in organising the
International Olympiad for IT Students. A teacher at the University of
Waterloo in Canada, he has been involved in the preparations for the
prestigious competition for more than a decade, since 2010. First as
deputy director and then as secretary of the event since 2022, he has
seen many bright minds develop thanks to the IOI.
He said that this is a competition where students are honoured to
represent their country, a huge point on their CVs that the cream of the
profession will surely look up to. Universities welcome the young
talents who have proven themselves at the IOI with open arms, and they
will have the job opportunities they have always dreamed of. The
Canadian professor stressed that the biggest advantage of the IOI is the
valuable contacts that the contestants can make.
And not by chance, as the International Olympiad in Informatics will be
attended by students and organisers from all over the world: 360
competitors and a total of 1000 participants will take part in the
prestigious competition, which will be the second in Hungary’s history
after 1996. “Participating in the IOI is a huge advantage for young
people, whether it’s during meals, waiting for the bus, on excursions or
even taking part in the competition, to come together and talk through
the proceedings with great excitement, sharing what happened to them,
these are my favourite moments of the IOI. The excitement, the tingling
in the air, is clearly conveyed in those moments. It’s a way for
students from all over the world to get to know each other. You can see
them taking photos with each other at the closing ceremony and
ceremonies, saying goodbye to their peers in a jovial way, having only
known each other for a week. So there was plenty of opportunity to make
friends at the IOI,” says John-Paul Pretti.
He added that it is very important for them to identify top talent and
bring them together in competitive programming. After all, especially
those who live in small towns are likely to have to go online to find
people with similar interests. “IOI has a huge role to play in talent
management. What does that mean? I think it’s important to identify top
talent and it’s also very important to bring these young people
together. Let’s say you excel in programming, but you live in a small
town and the only way to connect with people with similar interests is
exclusively online. I think it’s paramount to bring these people into a
room, especially after the pandemic, where they can connect with each
other and have a live conversation. This is a very important way to
nurture talent. All the participants are great, but they face big
challenges. Whoever wins the IOI will not leave as the same person as
they came in, and I don’t mean just the winner. It’s a way of nurturing
talent, giving young people the chance to develop high problem-solving
skills,” explained the secretary.
And what message does the expert have for young people preparing for the
competition? As he said, the week will fly by very quickly, so he urges
all participants to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the
IOI. “Enjoy the moment, slow down, take a break, think! And one more
thought, if you are a little shy, do your best and take a step towards a
person you don’t know and say: ‘Hi, I’m J.P. Pretti, where are you
from?’ Take that extra step, because you never know where it might lead.
Maybe that’s my key piece of advice to get the most out of IOI,” was the
secretary’s take-home message.