Computer programming contest at NMU offers challenges

MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University Invitational Programming Contest on Saturday drew about 25 teams, including from as far away as Minnesota and Ontario.

The contest was started by NMU computer science students in 2000 so that students with a passion for computer programming could have fun and challenge one another at the same time.

This year’s contest held Saturday in Jamrich Hall was conducted in the same spirit in which it started, nurturing the programming passions of the next generation of computer scientists.

“I think the goal is just to have a great time, to have free food and to solve some difficult problems and work with some of your peers in a competitive environment,” said Michael Kowalczyk, assistant professor of computer science and one of the contest’s coordinators. “It’s a good opportunity for them.”

Steve Willson, an NMU computer science senior, agreed.

“This is more or less like, ‘Hey, let’s just get everyone together and have a good time,’ ” he said. “It’s much more laid back (than some of the more formal programming competitions), much more relaxed.”

Participants are separated into teams, given one laptop per team and are turned loose on a handful of difficult problems – the solutions to which they attempt to solve and correctly program in the time allotted.

“They have a five-hour period to solve as many programming problems as they can,” Kowalczyk said. “They have a total of six problems and they work around the clock from when the contest starts to when it ends.”

Inclement April weather caused cancelations from a team from Michigan Tech University, a team from NMU and all three teams from Lake Superior State University that had signed up, Kowalczyk said.

“If everybody who signed up showed up we would have been slightly bigger than last year,” he said. “However, because of the weather some people had to cancel.”

Still, the two dozen or so teams represented four schools – including College of St. Scholastica of Duluth, Minn., and Algoma University from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario – made the journey to Marquette to participate.

“The contest overall has been steadily growing over the years, so we’re happy about that,” Kowalczyk said.