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Students participate in IBM’s Battle of the Brains

Nine computer programming questions, five hours, three students and one room: would you be scared?

Twelve Drake computer science students participated in the 35th Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest on Saturday, also known as the Battle of the Brains competition. Four teams, each made of three Drake students, competed without fear, only the drive to apply their knowledge and, more importantly, to have fun.

The competition included tens of thousands of students from universities in approximately 90 countries on six different continents. Those who came in first in their region will participate nationally, and the top 100 teams in the world will compete in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Feb. 27 through Mar. 4, 2011, for the World Finals.

The competition was called “the Olympics of the computer programming world” by Michael Karasick, vice president of strategy and technology at IBM Software group.

Drake participated in the regional competition at Grand View University on Saturday, coming in second place against Grand View University, Graceland University and Grinnell College. They also emerged in the top 25 percentile of the region with how many questions they answered correctly.

Tim Urness, assistant professor of computer science at Drake, stressed that the computer science professors at Drake did not teach to this competition; they simply wanted their students to use the knowledge they already had to do their best answering the programming questions.

“Drake students do well with critical thinking and I think these students are versatile,” Urness said. “They did well applying their knowledge.”

Urness believed the primary objective of the competition was to have fun and make friends through computer science–and the students did just that.

Liz Olson, a computer science major, said one of her favorite parts of the contest was the camaraderie among the contestants.

“We had a practice party the week before where we worked on sample problems and hung out,” Olson said. “Also, while the problems can be very difficult, I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction you get when your program compiles and does what it’s supposed to do. It’s an awesome feeling of accomplishment.”

The Battle of the Brains competition was not short on fun or hard work. All four Drake teams successfully completed at least one of four programming problems, and one team correctly answered four.

All the questions were based on real world scenarios, such as pandemic disease spread. Olson believes it’s important for computer science students to partake in the competition for experience.

“So many times when we program we have the Internet to look up code, or we have the availability of a professor to ask questions,” Olson said. “To attempt to write a program to solve difficult problems without those resources will make you a better programmer.”

Battle of the Brains was a chance for students to apply what they’re learning in class without the pressure of earning a good grade.

“I think it is a good exercise for computer science students because it forces you to critically approach a problem and find a correct solution quickly and efficiently,” said science major Andy Johnson. “It is a very good exercise in the application of the knowledge learned in class.”

If you’re a computer science student, be sure to congratulate your fellow students on their hard work last Saturday and don’t hesitate to participate in the competition next year.

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