Huddled around a single computer and racing against the clock in a battle of logic, strategy and mental endurance, two computer science and engineering teams from The University of Texas-Pan American competed in the 35th Annual Association for Computer Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC), or "Battle of the Brains," sponsored by IBM at the regional contest held at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Representing the South Central Region, six UTPA students joined 69 other teams from universities in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, including The University of Texas at Austin, Louisiana State University and The University of Oklahoma, for an opportunity to advance to the world finals competition in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in February 2011.
"The ACM-ICPC brings together the brightest and most innovative young programmers from all over the world...this is the Olympics of the computer programming world," said Dr. Michael Karasick, vice president of Strategy and Technology at IBM Software Group. "This rich talent pool is the lifeblood of our industry, allowing us to more effectively recruit the types of programmers we need to foster the future growth of our industry."
At the competition each team received eight programming questions that allowed them to use their programming skills and mental endurance to solve real world problems. The competition requires students to complete a whole semester's worth of computer programming in a five-hour time span, said Dr. Robert Schweller, assistant professor of Computer Science and team adviser. Scoring was determined by how many questions were completed and solved correctly, he said.
UTPA students Jesus Rivera, Christina Salinas, Moises Carrillo, Alex Martinez, David Gaspar and Roosevelt Gonzalez represented the University at the ACM-ICPC. The students trained almost every night leading up to the event, using questions from previous competitions to practice the skills they would need to know in order to be competitive.
"There really was no way to prepare for this competition because we don't know what we're going to be asked," said Gonzalez, a sophomore and computer engineering major. "It was all about practicing, but it was worth it. The experience taught us a lot about programming that will be useful in the classroom and in the real world."
Schweller said it is great for students to have this type of intellectual competition where they can use the academic skills they have learned and apply them outside of the classroom.
"This is a good experience... they get to learn how to compete effectively and improve on fundamental computer science topics," Schweller said. "Students also get to meet people, make connections with representatives in the industry and leave résumés on the spot. Plus, students have a good time when we go."
Gonzalez said this was his first year competing in "Battle of the Brains" and found it exciting to see so many students from different schools working together and having the same interest and knowledge for programming.
"I will most definitely be competing again next year and hopefully we can achieve more than we did this year now that we have the experience," Gonzalez said.
Schweller said, although they did not qualify for the world finals, he is happy that every year UTPA teams show improvement in their skills and knowledge regarding computer programming and are able to compete among teams from top universities in the region.
"I would like them to keep learning more fundamental computer science and engineering concepts because I think that's what's important beyond the contest," Schweller said. "I am looking forward to see what improvements we can make in the following years."
For more information on Battle of the Brains visit the competition's website or contact Schweller at (956) 665-2320.