Sixty-four university teams from 27 different countries are competing in the computer programming finals in Honolulu, Hawaii (3/22-24). The test, which is sponsored by the U.S. computer giant IBM, is a battle of logic, strategy, and mental endurance.
IBM created the contest five years ago to generate interest in computer programming among young people.
And, IBM executive Gabriel Silverman says, the strategy has worked. This year alone about 100,000 students around the world participated in the local and regional preliminary contests that lead up to the finals.
In this Olympics of the mind, he says, each three person team will be given a computer, nine software programming problems and five hours to come up with the right answers. "It's a challenge in terms of the teamwork that is required to analyze the problems. You have three students," he says. "One of them is working on one of the problems, the other is already coding, and the third one may be running an example on the machine."
Teamwork is critical to winning the competition, Mr. Silverman says, because teamwork is critical to computer programming in general. "In an industrial setting you are not doing that by yourself," he says. "You have team members developing other parts of the product. You certainly have to collaborate with the team that's going to test your code and integrate it into a larger product."
The reigning champions for the last two years Russian students from St. Petersburg are back again this year, seeking their third title.
But University of Texas team member Andrew Hudson says he feels calm, collected, and hopeful about seizing the crown. "If you win, it really sets you apart from other students," he says. "You are like, the top of the top. For myself, I don't feel that much pressure because it is just another computer deal. They give you a problem and you solve it."
Andrew's team coach, Doug Van Wearen, equates the finals to an athletic competition. "I've had them practicing quite a bit. Every two weeks we run a complete practice event," he says. "It really is analogous to an athletic competition. They do have to prepare to get to this level. It is preparation, skill, and then the raw intelligence comes in and helps quite a lot."
The winning team gets scholarship money, hardware and software products, and a priceless amount of prestige.