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IBM R&D Labs in Israel News

CodeGuru’s star volunteer

Researcher Oded Margalit wins 2008 On Demand Community Excellence Award

Perhaps more than anything else, Haifa researcher Oded Margalit loves getting teens excited about computers. That enthusiasm has led him to extensive involvement in community efforts over the years. In recognition of his efforts, Oded has just been named as one of the four individuals and three teams worldwide to win the On Demand Community Excellence Award.

Haifa Research Lab machine learning scientist, IBM Research puzzle master, and volunteer par excellence, Oded is the driving force behind CodeGuru, a yearly contest that gets teens keyed up about computers and mathematics. He’s also involved in EXITE, an IBM technology camp that inspires girls from diverse backgrounds to consider a career in technology, and the HRL community relations program. We sat down with Oded and learned more about the award and how he manages the work-volunteering balance.

What activities and programs are you participating in?

Oded: My two favorites are EXITE and CodeGuru. EXITE is an IBM program that encourages middle-school-age girls around the world to take their place among future technology innovators.

I was involved in launching the first program in Israel where I taught robotics and wrote daily riddles. We had 25 girls from five diverse schools join us for a four-day camp.

CodeGuru is a programming contest for high school students that I established nine years ago before I came to IBM. I continued it here when I joined the lab in 2006. CodeGuru Extreme, which requires knowledge of the Assembly computer language, is a competition that helps identify those kids who will continue on to even greater challenges. For example, one of this year’s winners is a 14-year old who studies mathematics and was offered a full scholarship to continue on to a masters degree in physics. He himself tutors outstanding students from elementary school, and is already learning ‘to give back’. That’s the main idea we want to pass on to the kids.

Some of my other activities include my role as the Research puzzle master and participating in HRL's community relations program. I also served as a judge in an IEEE extreme contest in Israel and help run other "geek camps" like KinnerNet by creating an IBM riddles corner.

How does your volunteer work make teens smarter?

Oded: Contests like CodeGuru motivate and encourage kids to learn new things for the contest itself. Some of the kids that participated in CodeGuru Extreme actually learned Assembler just because of the contest. This knowledge opens up new opportunities for them in the high-tech industry. In fact, some of the young participants already work as interns in our research lab and in other computer companies.

During the EXITE camp, Jewish, Arab, and Druze students came together for a chance to embrace technology – something they might not otherwise have been encouraged to do.

What inspired you to get involved in volunteer work?

The award shows that IBM values this as an important part of what we do and who we are as researchers

Oded: For me, it’s like coming full circle. I loved these kinds of activities as a young kid and believe they really helped me get to where I am today. It feels good to help others in the same way.

What does this award mean to you?

Oded: It’s great fun to participate in these activities and it’s very encouraging to receive such positive feedback from IBM. The award shows that IBM values this as an important part of what we do and who we are as researchers.

What advice do you live by?

Oded: Study those things that you feel passionate about. When your career is also your hobby, you are sure to enjoy it and succeed.

What are some of your hobbies?

Oded: I enjoy swimming, reading, and of course solving puzzles and riddles.