There could not have been a better first interviewee than Priska to help me ease into this series of dialogues. Her energy and openness instantly dissolve any barriers, and the best description of our conversation just so happens to be a translation of her name: delightful.
Priska's hobbies include learning the piano, writing fiction stories, and spending much of her time improving her programming skills. She started out as a beginner in the previous years' edition and made her way to a bronze medal in the SOI finals. Although she modestly attributes her success to "a bit more luck than just ability", this year she is once again striding past the first round and into the camp, making her participation in EGOI this summer look very likely.
Priska was fascinated with computers and thee people who could perform the magic of controlling them. "But I never really realized that it's something I can do as well", she says. Her first encounter with programming was in school, learning Python. Nudged by their Informatics teacher, her entire class took part in the Informatik Biber competition. Her outstanding performance prompted further encouragement to take part in SOI. "I've learned a lot, there's still a lot of magic with computers but the SOI stuff now I think I can do". Learning to trust her abilities was a year-long journey. “It was sometimes difficult to just have the feeling you can do it. I guess the whole SOI year I felt like a total beginner, everyone knows more than me and so on". With every new achievement, every round and camp she qualified for, both her programming skills and her confidence grew. Getting into the Sarnen camp after the first round, scoring enough points in the second round to go to the finalists camp and then the finals: these moments have been highlights of her journey. Her landslide to the finals last year came as a complete surprise, culminating with her proudest achievement: a full score on one of the finals tasks that only a couple others also managed to solve. Finally, at the end of the competition year, during the girls camp, the realization set in that "I don't feel like a beginner anymore and that's a nice feeling".
She continues to raise the bar for herself. Her approach to solving the tasks this year is more logical and structured, a reflection of the progress she's made. Her expectations of herself have also increased. “I guess this year will be different because maybe I do put more pressure on myself. You're always getting better and better, and always having somebody who is still better than you. I know I can do it, so I'm just trying my best to get as far as possible. It's a learning process and learning always has challenges".
The SOI leaders' support was paramount in surpassing these challenges. With their patience, encouragement and positive attitude, they make everyone feel that progress is within reach, regardless of their individual level. Along with gratitude and appreciation for the leaders, Priska acknowledges them as role models. They not only pass on their knowledge, but also inspire her to find her own way and be her unique self. She considers this to be one of the most personally valuable lessons from the SOI experience. "The other important thing is realizing there's nothing you can't do when you try it. Something you never thought you can do, a year later it can be your biggest hobby".
There are two sides to what makes SOI special for Priska. On one hand, the intellectual stimulation of finding solutions to challenging tasks. She lights up when she talks about solving coding problems, the joy and satisfaction of getting a full score after spending hours tinkering and debugging your code. “And the other thing is the contact with the other girls. These are people I don't normally see or meet, it's just nice being with them, and so I love the camps. And debugging is more fun when you're together.”
She would encourage more girls to explore programming and SOI, and discover their talents and passion. "Just try it, it's fun, and it might be something for you. You can't know if you don't try it".
What does the future hold for Priska? Her next goal is participating in EGOI, which she's well on her way to achieving. And after that, she hopes to qualify for IOI one day. She considers that her wildest goal - out of so many excellent participants, only four qualify each year. “I don't know if this goal is maybe a bit too high, but I will see… And at least I've tried. I'm not a person who sets low goals, I've always asked a lot of myself, and I'm always trying hard ".
Later on, she has her sights set on studying informatics at ETH and continuing to dive into the magical world of computers. She’s also eager to travel abroad. Priska is well on her way to achieving her dreams and her SOI experience has taught her a valuable life lesson early on, one that will keep her going and doing her best: Just try it. You can do anything.