Problem-solving professionals: Contestants program for camaraderie and career

Ten contestants sat quietly in their chairs Saturday, bent over notes and peering at computer screens, finishing their final work for the programming competition. At 4 p.m., they trickled out to get pizza and drinks, laughing in the hallway over the problems they just tackled.

Tim Gilmour, assistant professor of engineering, created the idea for the John Brown University 2013 Computer Programming Competition from a similar event he attended at Cedarville University.

He said he hoped to get more students involved in programming.

Gilmour designed the competition to test not only students’ programming skills but also their problem solving skills. Contestants participated as teams, so they also practiced working as a unit.

Nine engineering students and one teacher attended the competition. The event lasted from early morning to late afternoon on Jan. 26. In the morning, contestants reviewed the competition rules and did practice tests. Team members broke for lunch and then began the competition. Team ++ took first; Third Floor Flaming Dragons, second; the Jackhammers, third; and 2E 1T, fourth.

Contestants were provided with six programming questions. They started with a type of problem involving some branch of math. Team members then created a program that could solve the problem.

One of the winning contestants, sophomore Zachary Lee, was enthusiastic about competing again next year. He and junior Ernesto Lopez Chan formed Team ++. Lee described how Lopez struggled with one of their hardest problems, writing pages of notes. After the team finished their first problem, they gained a surge of confidence and continued on to win first place.

Junior Brian Plank said computer programming interests him because it is up to the programmer how to solve the problem.

“In the end, you have something that works and something that you took from scratch,” he said.

Plank’s team, the Jackhammers, consisted of him, senior Andrew McIntyre and sophomore Landon Miles.

Before the competition, Plank looked forward to working with his team.

“Even if we don’t do well, we’re going to have a fun day together,” he said.

Contestants wrote the programs in C++, one of the most widely used computer programming languages.

Today’s computer technology requires software made up of programs. Programs are in turn created using programming languages such as C++.

Ted Song, assistant professor of engineering, helped Gilmour with the competition. He hoped it would encourage interest in programming beyond the classroom. He emphasized that many mission agencies need people with this skill.

Gilmour said he was encouraged that contestants seemed to enjoy their time. He intends to make the programming competition an annual event.

The competition is open to any major.