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Student wins $100K in collegiate programming challenge

Stanford University junior Daniel Wright won the 2002 Sun Microsystems Inc. and TopCoder Collegiate Challenge held near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., from April 19-20. Wright, from Lafayette, Colo., beat out 15 programmers for the $100,000 top prize.

The event, which had some of the aspects of an updated version of the College Bowl TV show of the 1950s and 1960s, was put on by TopCoder, a Hartford, Conn., firm that manages a global programming skills database for purposes of job and project placement. The company uses online and other competitions to attract and rate skilled programmers. The Collegiate contest was also sponsored by Sun Microsystems.

Working in C++ and Java, the competitive coders worked on such problems as lexical ordering and nearest neighbor placement. Wright entered the Collegiate Challenge as the second seed in the West region, and beat Ling Li of the California Institute of Technology, Dan Adkins of the University of California-Berkeley, and Joe Nievelt of the Michigan Technological University, in the final round. Wright had competed unsuccessfully for the grand prize before.

"It was a well-fought, tough match," said TopCoder founder and Chairman Jack Hughes. "Winning a competition that brought together the top 512 collegiate programmers is a tremendous accomplishment."

By hosting these competitions, TopCoder provides the means for leading companies to assess the upper echelon of computer programmers, Hughes said. He noted that the number of computer scientists coming out of U.S. universities was on the rise.

And how goes the battle for placing highly skilled programmers during a massive technology downturn? "There is definitely a change in the supply-demand equation," said Hughes, "but there are never going to be enough top developers."

For an inning-by-inning description of the competition go to http://www.topcoder.com.

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