Capturing Flags and Writing Code

BRCC student participating in computer programming competitionEvery year that Blue Ridge Community College has entered teams in Radford University’s computer programming competition, we have emerged victorious. This year’s two-part event (security and programming) was no different.

Students Bryan Taylor, Walker Sensabaugh, and Rodrigo Moran “captured many flags” in the security portion and came in second. Through the magic of technology, they competed here at BRCC while connected to servers at Radford. “The ‘flags’ were bits of information, usually numbers, here and there on the servers (or sometimes like cookies that the server hides on your computer) that they had to find and report. Finding the information required learning about Windows, Linux, networking, and cryptography,” said John Maxfield, associate professor of Information Technology and coach.

On the second day of competition, Jamie Tudor joined the competitors, partnering with Walker, under the team name “42,” (a nod to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) in the programming phase. Bryan and Rodrigo, under the team name “73” (a Big Bang Theory reference), defeated all other community college teams, a high school team, and three Radford students working individually.

“I think that the main benefit to the competition is to provide an extra challenge and motivation to some of my more advanced/talented students,” said Maxfield. “The programming competition was closely aligned with courses they’ve had at BRCC.”

Putting the skills they’ve acquired in class into practice has many benefits for students. Of the competition, Rodrigo, who plans to transfer to JMU after another year here, said, “Aside from looking good on a résumé or application, it reassured me that I chose the right major.”

Both Rodrigo and Walker give much of the credit to the team’s success to Professor Maxfield. “He’s very picky about our code,” said Rodrigo. “We really have to work for his ‘nice’ comment, meaning our code is perfect.”

On a side note, BRCC had a connection to another team in the event. A team from the Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School coached by John York, BRCC network engineer, also competed and represented their school well.