The Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 5, 1999
Apr. 5, 1999
VOL. 28, NO. 29


Team Heads Off to Collegiate Programming Championships

By Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

A team of students will travel to The Netherlands this week to represent the university in a fiercely competitive international contest. But these students are not athletes; winning will require brain power, not brawn.

The Hopkins team--two undergraduates and one graduate student--will take part in the world finals of the 23rd Annual Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, beginning Thursday, April 8.

Their efforts are an indication of Hopkins' rising stature in computer science education.

"We had two teams in the regional competition this year, and they both did better than any team we've had in the past 10 years," said Scott Smith, an associate professor of computer science in the Whiting School of Engineering, who is serving as coach and will accompany the finalists on the overseas trip.

Each university can place only one team in the finals, so the trio with the higher score in the regional contest was selected.

The team members are John Schultz, 21, of Whiteford, Md., a senior majoring in computer science and electrical and computer engineering; Phil Lawton, 20, a junior majoring in computer science and mathematics; and Adam Hunter, 21, a computer science doctoral student from Jacksonville, Fla.

Getting ready for competition: Phil Lawton on the keyboard, Adam Hunter and John Schultz. This week, they'll match their programming skills against teams from 61 other universities.

They will compete in the finals against students from 61 other universities around the world. Scholarships will be awarded to the winning teams.

"At the college computer programming level," said Schultz, "this is the highest competition level you can get to."

During the event, the team members must share one computer and pool their skills to solve five to seven programming puzzles within a five-hour period. Scores are based on how many questions they answer--and how quickly they do so.

In the regional competition, for example, one puzzle asked the team members to imagine they were on the Titanic, with a geometric grid set up between them and the lifeboats. The students had to come up with a computer program that would route them around flooding areas and into the slowly vanishing lifeboats.

"The answers are always computer programs," explained Hunter. "It's a highly non-theoretical competition. They are looking for answers to real programming questions. You have to come up with a program and show that it works."

While athletes might prepare for a big game by lifting weights and running laps, the computer team prepares by reviewing puzzles from past programming contests. "It's basically just practice, practice, practice," Schultz said.

Like many of their athletic counterparts, the Hopkins students have plenty of experience. "I've been programming since the fifth grade," Lawton said.