City College students placed first in computer programming competition

Kristen Gardner, Staff writer

On Nov. 13, six computer science majors headed south for a brain-wrecking competition City College hadn’t been in since 1997.

Two days later, those math mandarins came home victorious.

“I was only a little nervous before it started, but got a lot more nervous during the actual test,” said Roxanne Brittain, who along with Allison Van Pelt and Keith Avery made up team SBCC++.

The three of them ended up taking first place among the region’s two-year colleges. They also beat some of the state’s most illustrious four-year technical schools.

The other team, SBCC–, made up of Kevin Daniels, Dan Maleas, and William Moor, placed 37th out of 72 teams.

“I was really proud of myself, my team and our other SBCC team,” Brittain said.

The event, known as “The Battle of the Brains,” was held at Riverside Community College and sponsored by the Regional Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.

“The scariest part was after we submitted our first answer,” Brittain said. “We checked the scores and one team had already gotten three marked correct. I was pretty sure we were failing at that point.”

After 20 years of keeping records, team ++ set new records by completing more problems than any other two-year institution. SBCC–‘s effort would also have done the trick if not for their City College counterparts.

The students met weekly to do group practice tests to prepare for their challenge.

“We all worked hard and earned our awards,” said Brittain.

Dean Nevins, one of the instructors who directed the students said “the competition provided a tremendous opportunity for SBCC students to mix it up with the best programmers out there and the preparation and dedication needed to participate in the contest was considerable.”

Battle of the Brains started in Texas in the 1970s with a goal to “raise the aspirations, performance, and opportunity of the top students in the emerging field of computer science,” according to a press release.

When IBM became a sponsor in 1997, the contest increased in size by 800 percent.

Now, as many as 22,000 contestants from 1,931 universities from 82 countries on six continents compete.

According to a statement from IBM, “the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest brings together the brightest and most innovative young programmers from all over the world,” adding, “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.”

The contest challenges the teams with eight or more complex, real-world problems, which is equivalent to completing a semester’s worth of computer programming in five hours.

The team that solved the most problems in the least amount of time this year was Harvey Mudd College. Their prize was a spot in the World Finals, which will take place on Feb. 27 through March 4, 2011 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

The last time City College competed was when they hosted the event in 1997.

“The best part was all the students had a great time and got a lot out of the experience,” Nevins said.