As she joins our meeting, I am about to discover that I've already met Vivienne, in a way. She is, quite literally, the "poster child" for EGOI 2021, her picture accompanying the announcement for the start of the EGOI selection process. One of the youngest participants, she is already a veteran of the Swiss Olympiad in Informatics’ (SOI) junior competition. Starting last year's edition as a beginner, she breezed past the first round of SOI for the second consecutive year, emerging as a promising contender for qualifying to EGOI.
What has her SOI journey been like so far? Although struggling to narrow it down to just one best experience, she mentions loving the camps. They are an opportunity not only for intensive learning, but also for social interactions and connecting with like-minded young people. "All in all I feel like SOI is less competitive than one may think it is", she continues, "because it's not just a competition, it's also just about doing your best and motivating others to do their best". Instead of comparing yourself to others, doing your best at your current level is what counts. She cherishes the feeling of community, collaboration and support that this environment leads to. Using her own track and field experience, she draws parallels to the sports environment as a counterexample of competitiveness, one that can lead to taking joy in your opponent's poor performance and being less than your best self - "which is just not a good mindset", she adds. She much prefers the atmosphere that the SOI fosters. It has allowed her to build close friendships with other participants and stay connected despite the reduced in-person contact during the past year.
So far, Vivienne has found the biggest challenge to be motivation. Some days it's harder to show up and to do the work, to tirelessly chase the small improvements that precede the big leaps. "I feel like it comes in waves. After a camp or a workshop I'm often very motivated to keep on practising and then in between it goes down a bit, so I think sometimes it's kind of hard to just stay motivated". She also finds motivation in being around more advanced participants, particularly in acknowledging their progress over time and using that as an inspiration and a reminder of her own potential for growth, learning and improvement. She takes joy in seeing improvement in others, and is encouraged and inspired by it for her own learning journey: "That motivates me, to see how much they've improved".
To overcome the drops in motivation and to keep going, she reminds herself of her goals. In the short term, she aims to qualify for EGOI, while further in the future qualifying for the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) comes up as her wildest goal. She keeps a grounded and focused attitude, and she is approaching her goals one step at a time, acknowledging that motivational highs and lows are normal. Vivienne seems to have figured out on her own the golden rule of habits and productivity: just get started and the motivation will follow. "Sometimes I will just take a day off [...] at some point I will just make myself code, and after I've made myself code once it [the motivation] usually comes back".
Beyond her Olympic ambitions, she deeply enjoys coding, most of all the feeling of satisfaction she gets from problem-solving. "[...] when you solve a problem that may be kind of hard, or maybe you spend a long time trying to debug your code and then finally solve it - that feeling is very nice, because you've put so much time into it. Or if you maybe thought that you couldn't solve it when you first read the description, and then you just tried and at some point you solved it, I really enjoy that".
In her eyes, the benefits of participating in SOI go beyond informatics. Participants are training their logical thinking and problem-solving skills, learning to integrate knowledge and apply it in different ways to various problems, to find solutions on their own rather than by rote memorization. They develop perseverance and learn that "even if a problem may look very hard, you just still think rationally about what should be done and how you can try to solve it - I think that's a valuable lesson". These are the takeaways of the SOI experience which Vivienne can carry into her daily life.
As an additional benefit, her passion for programming has also brought her closer to her brother - a former Informatics Olympiad participant himself and current team leader, who first encouraged her to take part in SOI. The shared interest has strengthened their relationship.
Her words of encouragement for other girls to take part in SOI are "Just go for it, give it a try. Nothing bad could happen, so there's really no reason not to. Once you start, you find more motivation to keep improving, and it's satisfying to look back and realize your progress by comparing what you found hard a year ago to what you can do today". As a beginner, the learning curve is incredibly steep and progress is quickly noticeable.
Although less so than when she first started, Vivienne still notices her own fast-paced improvement. With rapid and substantial progress in the time she's been participating, and four more years of competition ahead, she is moving steadily towards her goals. Due to her hard work, perseverance, and the mindset she has developed during her SOI journey, it's only a matter of time until she achieves them.