OTTUMWA — More than 200 computer programming students from across the state came together at Indian Hills on Tuesday for the college’s annual Byte Jam.

Byte Jam is a student-organized computer programming competition, where participants work in small teams to develop projects they showcase to businesses and one another. The event is open to college and high school students.

“These kids have spent three months planning it, and it’s a pretty major deal,” said Susan Wilson, professor of computer software development. “Everything from mapping out the layout of how it’s going to look down in the gym, to requesting extra trash cans, to getting the judgement app up to date.”

Programming students at IHCC were given just 24 hours, spread over three eight-hour days, to develop their projects. The students crowded together, fans blowing to stave off the heat generated by so many bodies and computers, and had their food delivered so they didn’t have to walk away from their desks.

“We can’t get team time in class. But in this, we’re just really cut loose, and there’s a lot of learning on the fly and making it work,” said Jacob Cook, an organizer and a student at IHCC. “It’s not high pressure or anything, but you want to get it done. You want to make the nicest product.”

This year’s theme was “western,” which spawned plenty of cowboy-related team names and projects. One group, called “Texas Code’m,” developed a blackjack and Texas Hold’em card-playing simulator. Another, the “Quantum Cowboys,” created a bounty collecting app, while the “Bandwidth Bandits” made a text-based, western-themed adventure game.

High school teams came from as far away as Waterloo, and there were others from Pekin, Davenport, and Davis County. There were about 225 participants in total.

The event not only gives students a chance to practice their skills, but to meet local business representatives as well. Most participants kept resumes at their tables, and handed them out to any curious employers.

“There’s some people who code out there who couldn’t tell you what they do, because they don’t really know the words, or how to describe it,” Cook said. “So as I remember last year, I didn’t know very much vocabulary, but I started learning it because when [people] came up to me and asked me what I did with my project, I had to be able to put that into words and be able to communicate it to others.”

“You have to be brave to go and talk to the companies,” said Libby Bakalar, one of the organizers and a student at IHCC. “But you got to just put yourself out there.”

Bravery can pay off. Two Indian Hills students received internships directly from contacts they made at Byte Jam.

The event also serves as a recruitment tool for the college. Wilson said about 40 percent of her students had participated as high school students.

The main event, held on Tuesday, saw the high school and college teams come together for the first time. Awards were handed out after a two-hour presentation period, when the groups introduced their projects to different business representatives.

“You always have some errors on presentation day, but we made some small patches to what we had, and it worked for the most part,” said Grant Grooms, a student at IHCC. “I don’t think anyone was displeased with it.”

“It went great. We had a really good turnout, we had 13 businesses, 18 high school teams, and 11 college teams,” Wilson said. “Companies were impressed, and that’s what we’re after.”

Jack Langland can be reached at jlangland@ottumwacourier.com.

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