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Jerry Zheng, a sophomore at James Clemens High School, designed, coded and completed troubleshooting for a digital platform so students statewide could compete in the competition for Alabama Consortium for Technology in Education or ACTE. CONTRIBUTED

Jerry Zheng codes platform for Alabama Consortium for Technology in Education

MADISON – Jerry Zheng, a sophomore at James Clemens High School, wouldn’t accept the pandemic’s drawbacks – even cancellations — that students faced in statewide computer science competition.

Zheng created the first virtual platform for students to practice and compete in the state-level Alabama Consortium for Technology in Education. By himself, Zheng formulated the questions, wrote test cases and coordinated the competition online.

“Work that Jerry completed for ACTE surpasses what you find in typical advanced-placement computer science tracks at high schools,” Kayla Brown said. Brown sponsors the Computer Science Team and teaches precalculus and computer science at James Clemens. “To complete everything for the competition, Jerry had to understand up to advanced-tier competitive programming algorithms and some advanced website design.”

Zheng also understood the current implementation, improved it and made ‘bug fixes.’ To construct the contest platform, he worked with cloud platforms, like AWS Lightsail, MySQL database, Python WebSocket and Ubuntu operating system. “The platform is scalable. For example, he added an additional grading server for this competition because of the number of participants,” Brown said.

Brown describes Zheng as a very determined student and always up for a challenge. “Running the whole ACTE competition on his own was a very extensive process. Jerry had to work through several hurdles,” she said. “His perseverance to work through those challenges is what made the competition successful.”

“Jerry will continue to be successful in his future because of his ability to approach a problem, reflect on the process and learn to adapt,” Brown said.

Zheng already was planning on hosting a programming contest this year. When invited to host the state’s biggest tech competition, he couldn’t decline the next level. He wanted “to help students not only in my local county but the entire state. Besides, organizing and hosting this competition, I learned (many) interesting things and touched back on my own knowledge of competitive programming topics.”

The most difficult task was writing solutions. “Oftentimes, things at first glance make perfect sense, but, under closer inspection, turn out to gloss over crucial steps in understanding. I wanted students to not only know how to do problems but also know why the solution reached the conclusions,” Zheng said.

Students should see the competition more as a learning experience and less as a place to just earn prizes, Zheng said.

At James Clemens, Zheng participates in the math, computer science and soccer teams. He is a two-time qualifier for American Invitational Math Exam. He reached USACO Gold status in programming, along with first place, in computer science competition at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Programming is Zheng’s primary hobby. “Most projects help my life become easier, but I’ve done a few for the school/other people, such as a fingerprint scanner attendance manager for James Clemens library and online homework grader for the chemistry department,” he said. Zheng also likes origami and soccer.

His parents are Haibiao Zheng and Xiaoying Lou. Both work as software engineers for ADTRAN.

Jerry wants to attend Carnegie Mellon University for a master’s degree in computer science.

“I must also give a shoutout to all the people who have helped me: my computer science teacher Kayla Grantham/Brown; James Clemens Principal Brian Clayton; and my counselors over ninth/tenth grades, Heather Porter and Kristen Gist. They helped me get on the accelerated track for my computer science journey and my dual-enrollment class at University of Alabama in Huntsville in my sophomore year,” Jerry said.

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