University students place in world computer programming contest

By Naomi Miyake

Three University computer programming students finished 17th out of 78 teams from around the world and first out of the United States’ teams at a computer science competition last week in Shanghai, China.

The 29th Annual World Finals of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest, sponsored by IBM, took place from April 3 to 7 and hosted more than 4,100 teams from 71 countries.

John Carrino, Steve Downing and Jeff Tamer, all seniors in engineering at the University, passed through a series of competitions to earn a spot in the world finals hosted by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

“The students that (reach the finals) are the best of the best,” said Margaret Ashida, director of Corporate University Relations at IBM. “We consider this to be the most prestigious competition judging from the caliber of the students and the real-world problems that have to be solved.”

Contestants participated in the Parallel Challenge where students were given three hours to create an application and run it using IBM’s newly-introduced POWER-based eServer Blue Gene supercomputer – the world’s most powerful supercomputer as of November 2004.

Aside from the Parallel Challenge, the main event had teams solve 10 “real-world programming” problems within a five-hour time limit. Shanghai Jiao Tong University won the competition, solving eight out of 10 problems.

Even though the University’s team of three didn’t win the finals, Downing said he is happy with their success.

“We surprised ourselves with how well we did,” Downing said. “We were just there to have fun so I wasn’t too concerned with the result. I know a lot of other schools practiced a lot more intensely than we did.”

Last year, the team competed in the World Finals in Prague, Czech Republic, but Tamer said they did better this year because their teamwork improved.

“The teamwork was great,” Downing said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time so it all worked like a well-oiled machine. We all communicated very well.”

Marsha Woodbury, University professor in computer science and the team’s coach, said she was proud of their success.

“They demonstrated teamwork and set good priorities for their efforts,” Woodbury said. “Not only that, they ate tons of Chinese food, learned to say a few words in the language and hiked up the Great Wall.”

After graduation, Carrino is going on to work for Amazon.com, Downing for Language Computer Corporation in Texas, and Tamer for Google Inc. in Mountain View, Calif.