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Brains battle for computer crown

| Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003

Students from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are competing for a chance to be the best computer gurus in the world.

About 23,000 students from more than 1,300 institutions in 68 countries are taking part in the International Collegiate Programming Contest. Winners of the regional contests, such as the one taking place today at Carnegie Mellon in Oakland, will compete for the world title March 28 through April 1 in Prague in the Czech Republic.

"When you win this thing, you're the best in the world," said Mark Stehlik, dean for undergraduate education and a former coach of Carnegie Mellon's team. "That's a wonderful feather in one's cap."

The event is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery and IBM.

"It is the oldest, largest and most prestigious programming contest in the world," said Megan Shames, a spokeswoman for IBM. The teams have to solve at least eight complex problems in five hours. That's the equivalent of a semester's worth of computer programming in one afternoon.

Last year, Carnegie Mellon went to the world finals in Beverly Hills, Calif. The university tied for 21st place by solving five of nine problems.

A typical question: What's the smallest number of bridges needed to connect all the buildings on a 5-by-3-cell grid?

Shyamal Chandra, 20, a junior from Pittsburg, Kan., is a member of one of Pitt's two teams. "It's my first time around, so I'm real optimistic about our chances," he said. "I'm really looking forward to using the knowledge that I've gained during the past few years at the university."

Chandra has been programming computers since he was 9. He is thinking of getting a doctorate in computer science and doing research.

It's the second try for another Pitt contestant, Jose Baiocchi Paredes, 23, of Ica, Peru. He competed in the contest two years ago in his home country.

"We need to be very informed about the basics of computer science, especially algorithms and data structure," he advised.

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