Skilled at code, he wins a load
University of Washington computer whiz Michael Skinner scored an upset victory Friday by winning his division of an international contest...
Seattle Times higher education reporter
University of Washington computer whiz Michael Skinner scored an upset victory Friday by winning his division of an international contest aimed at finding out who can write the most effective computer programs.
Skinner, 22, a senior, was one of just two Americans among a field of 120 students gathered in Florida for the 2007 TopCoder Collegiate Challenge. Skinner had qualified eighth among eight finalists in the "marathon match" division, and he was up against students from Poland, France and the United Kingdom — all of whom had won or placed in previous events.
Skinner, a computer-science major better known among peers by his online handle "Paranoia," won $15,000 and bragging rights for the victory. The other American student was eliminated from the contest Thursday.
In the marathon-match scenario, students were required to maneuver a tank on a hilly landscape and fire at moving targets. The students had eight hours to write elegant mathematical algorithms, or problem-solving procedures, to ensure the highest number of targets were hit in the least amount of time.
Skinner said he wrote about 350 lines of computer code over the eight hours, taking only a required lunch break and quick bathroom stops.
He said that, like most of his competitors, he directed his tank first to the largest concentrations of targets. Where he gained an edge, he said, was that rather than chasing down remaining targets he predicted their course and intercepted them — using the hills to gain a height and firing-range advantage.
Skinner said he felt confident during the competition, but that gave way to hours of nerves and shakiness as he awaited final results. Preliminary results Thursday put him in the lead, but he needed to wait a day while his program was tested against scores of different scenarios.
Back at the UW, the Computer Science & Engineering department had been following Skinner's progress.
"We are very excited he won. I just announced it to my introductory class of freshmen," said Stuart Reges, a senior lecturer, on Friday afternoon.
Reges added that the victory bodes well for a regional competition later this month in which Skinner will lead a team of three UW students against competitors from Stanford University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of British Columbia.
Skinner, who has lined up a job at Google beginning next fall, said he plans to use the prize money to buy a new road bike and an Xbox 360 game console. And when he gets back to Seattle, he's planning to take friends and family to dinner.
"At least for this month, I'm the one with the biggest income," he said.
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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