The thread throughout our conversation is Jasmin's tangible, genuine keenness for the Informatics Olympiad. Each account of her experiences is accompanied by a heartfelt smile. A first year participant, Jasmin was introduced to Informatics last summer during a programming course at school, followed by the Girls Camp of the Swiss Olympiad in Informatics (SOI). These experiences helped her realize that she enjoyed coding, but she was still reluctant to participate in the first round. Her father's encouragement tipped the balance, and she is delighted with how things turned out: "I really enjoy it, the people are so nice, and I love the tasks!"
At first, Jasmin was concerned about how she would be able to rise up to the other participants' level. Once at SOI, she discovered that rather than feeling intimidated, she felt very much encouraged and inspired. The more experienced, knowledgeable participants were very eager to support the newcomers: "In the camp and at the workshops they helped a lot, people help each other and discuss the tasks".
She's performed very well so far, finishing the first round in the top 20 and qualifying not only for the second round, but also for the preparation camp that precedes it. Taking part in this intensive training week boosts participants' chances of successfully completing the second round. Despite finding some tasks difficult compared to her previous experience in the junior round, she thinks that the SOI organizers do a great job preparing participants for the competition.
Regarding her progress, she thinks it most strongly shows in her ability to find and optimize solutions. "I can see when a program is too slow, and I learned a way of thinking to find algorithms", she says. Despite having only the weekends to practice and prepare for SOI, the problems are often at the back of her mind as she goes about her daily schedule and activities. It's not uncommon for her to have a sudden breakthrough while she's engaged in a different activity.
Jasmin deeply appreciates and enjoys the community aspect of SOI, the friendly atmosphere that facilitates new friendships. "Getting to know people with similar interests" comes up as an important motivator, and her favourite part of the experience.
She is very much of the opinion that role models are an important element for girls to feel motivated to participate. Jasmin herself would like to assume a training role later on, once she can't participate anymore. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the SOI volunteers that extend far beyond coding skills. They model continuous learning at every stage among participants who might otherwise feel overwhelmed, or insecure about their abilities. Seeing that anyone, no matter how knowledgeable, can still ask for help sometimes, is reassuring to beginners. "It shows me that even they can't do everything just right away, so it's a bit relieving".
Drawing inspiration from her dad's words of encouragement when she worried she might not be "good enough", as well as from her experience since, she wants other girls who might be holding back from participating to know that "the people are very nice and help you, and it doesn't matter if you don't know much about it, you can learn".
As for her most ambitious goal at the moment, Jasmin says "It would be great if I could one year go to the finals". She doesn’t fully trust that she can accomplish that just yet, but by witnessing her own improvement and that of others, she realizes that the people who are now making it to the final all started in a similar place as she did. Given her remarkable accomplishments so far, a place in the final may be closer for Jasmin than she dares to expect.
Although she has two more years ahead of her to decide, the Olympic experience has already inspired her future plans. "I think I'd like to go in the direction of maths or informatics, but I'm not sure yet".