Students compete at IBM coding competition

IBM says the competition helps develop the next crop of information technology professionals.
Megan Stroup / Graphic Designer

MU's competitive computer programming team coded its way to 16th place in the annual IBM-sponsored Battle of the Brains on Saturday.

The competition marked MU's return to the Battle of the Brains after last competing in 2005. Graduate computer science student Jason Green coached the team, which calls itself the Blue Seven. Junior banking and finance major Victor Halamicek and sophomore computer science majors Chris Riggs and Brad Klingensmith are on the team.

The team competed in the Mid-Central USA Region competition, which consisted of 139 teams across the Midwest. Teams from five schools in Missouri and Illinois faced off at Webster University, with some schools having more than one team. MU competed against teams from Webster, Saint Louis University, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and Washington University in St. Louis.

Each three-person team in the contest had to solve 10 complex problems simulating real-world business situations in fewer than five hours.

Tens of thousands of students from 83 countries compete in the worldwide contest, which began in 1975. The 100 best teams will compete for scholarships and the "World's Smartest" trophy at the World Finals. That competition will take place April 18-22 at the KTH-Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

Halamicek said in an e-mail the teams from Washington University were the Blue Seven's toughest opponents. The university's two teams took first and eighth respectively this year and the school advanced to the world finals last year.

Riggs said the team was satisfied with its performance in what was the first experience with this competition for all of them.

"I feel like we were really well prepared for the competition," Riggs said. "I think we did a little better than we expected to do since it was our first time in regionals."

Green also felt the team did well, given its levels of education, adding that some of the problems dealt with concepts the team would likely see in its future classes.

"Being sophomores and not having had all of the material they would need to answer the other four questions, I think they did exceptional," Green said. "It was a very strong showing for the first year."

Doug Heintzman, who works for IBM, said in a news release the competition emphasized business problems to help contestants develop skills demanded by the information technology industry. The problems focused on creating codes that can be modified and distributed to corporations.

Heintzman said as the economy becomes increasingly globalized, professional programmers will have to produce software that can tackle a broad array of problems, including language translation, mass transit coordination and preventing identity theft.

"This contest is about fostering the next generation of industry leaders in (information technology) and promoting strong foundations in both technology and business," Heintzman said.

Halamicek, who also plans to minor in computer science, said team Blue Seven has clear goals for improving its position in the next competition.

"I think our focus now is for next year," Halamicek said. "We're going to work with [Green] on learning some of the algorithms we need to know for the harder problems and how to approach the more difficult problems."


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