In search of programmers

After the glitz and glamour of the Academy Awards last month, it was the ACM World Finals that had Hollywood abuzz.

In conjunction with IBM Corp., the Association for Computing Machinery kicked off its International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), welcoming more than 200 of the computing world’s best and brightest to compete for champion-status.

The 27th annual competition has brought together 70 teams from universities in 26 countries from around the globe to solve complex problems designed by the competition’s judges. Teams of three students must combine their brainpower to design software solutions to eight problems, all within a five-hour deadline. The teams have endured gruelling local, preliminary and regional contests before being eligible for the final competition. Canada is represented by four university teams including the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo – last year’s third-place team – and newcomer to the competition, the University of New Brunswick.

Having sponsored the event for six years, IBM has more than philanthropy at stake. The company is often actively seeking new talent and holds contest competitors in a very high light.

Helene Armitage, vice-president of technology at IBM, told competitors that while the company has spent the last 50 years developing through six orders of magnitude, Big Blue is looking to the next generation to fulfil the next six orders.

“This time is critical,” Armitage said. “It is not just about faster, better computing. It is about more intelligent, reliable computing. It is about taking complexity and making it simple and consumable to users.”

Armitage also pressured competitors on the importance of Linux and open source within IBM’s overall strategy, noting that as Linux offers a universal platform to program to and from, it will be key in IBM’s future plans.

Big Blue is also investing more than dollars and cents into the next-generation of programmers. The company offers scholarship and internship programs, including its Extreme Blue offering. Extreme Blue is a project-focused internship that pairs three to four computer science students with an MBA intern along with business and technical mentors from IBM. The computer science interns write code for their project, while the business students focus on the project business case and market analysis.

In past years, Extreme Blue teams have been responsible for projects like developing applications on the IBM WebSphere Telecom Application Server, as well as creating VoiceXML development tools, now part of IBM’s WebSphere Voice Toolkit.

While Extreme Blue only operates in facilities in the U.S., the U.K. and China, there are plans in the works to bring the opportunity to Canadian students, according to John Wolpert, senior engineering manager of Extreme Blue. There are no details on when the program may be available. Wolpert said that the ACM finals are a good opportunity for students to show off their skills, and it gives former students a chance to come back and coach or mentor competitors. He noted that an important asset to a resum