How a coding competition can lead to a career in tech

MARCH 6, 2023 • Q&A


Drew Neyland, former CodeWars student, now a software engineer at HPE, tells us how friendly competitions can spark a career

For 26 years, HPE has hosted CodeWars, a first-class computer programming competition for high school students. The event invites teams of students aged between 13 and 18 years old, sponsored by their teachers and schools, to compete against one another to solve coding problems.

Student are encouraged to push their problem-solving limits, while HPE volunteers their tech talent to help mentor these students to see past this challenge and explore a career in tech.

We caught up with one former student, Drew Neyland, who followed his passion for problem solving and is now a software engineer at HPE, to tell us how competitions like CodeWars can spark a career.

How did you learn about CodeWars? How many years did you participate?

I learned about CodeWars when I was a freshman in high school from my computer science teacher. I enjoyed the programming I was doing, but I knew nothing about any kind of formal competitions. I participated for three years - 2009, 2011 and 2012.

How do you think having access to programs like this shaped your career goals? Did you know what you wanted to be, before having access to coding?

I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do before I got access to coding. Admittedly, I was in middle school when I had my first brush with it. After about two or three years of participating in competitions like CodeWars, I sat down with my computer one Saturday to work on practice problems. The problems led to me wanting to code a game and before I knew it, I’d missed lunch and dinner because I was so engrossed in what I was doing.

Drew Neyland at CodeWars 2023 in Houston, Texas

What have you learned from participating in the challenge – what were your biggest takeaways?

One of my biggest takeaways was learning how much programming is done before you write a line of code or put your hands on the keyboard. You need to understand a problem, break it up, and then formulate the methods of how to solve it. If you’re writing code before you’ve solved the problem, you’re going to be hundreds of lines of code deep in a problem and realize you can’t make the ends meet up because of something you didn’t consider in the beginning.

Why do you still take an active part in CodeWars?

This is my first year volunteering, but I do think there is something about trying to solve as many problems as you can in a tight time limit that exponentially increases your learning, more so than I found just listening to lectures or from reading. It provides an opportunity for students to apply what they’ve learned and interact with other people around them who have the same interests.

What advice do you have for students who aren’t sure if coding is something they can do?

Spend time investing in your problem-solving skills, and explore solving those problems without worrying about a programming language. Just write out the simplest steps to solve a given problem that can be used to solve the problem repeatedly, independent of a given data set. Once you’ve developed those ‘muscles,’ then pick up a simple language like Java or Python and see if you can translate those steps into code.

Those problem-solving skills can transfer to the different programming languages you’ll learn along the way.


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