Students Strive for Gold at Annual International Computing Olympiad

Each year, high school students gather to partake in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI, online at, a competition of computer science skills that draws 300 contestants from 80 delegations worldwide. And like their athletic Olympic counterparts, contenders in the IOI flock to the competition for one reason: a love of their sport, which, in this case, is computer programming. As Brenda Chow of IBM, a sponsor of the USA Computing Olympiad (USACO), says, “For [the students], programming competitions are extracurricular activities they do because they love to, not because they have to.”

Team USA took third place in the 2004 competition, which was held in September. The USACO team has consistently ranked in the top three since the competition’s inception 16 years ago.

The team is trained by an all-volunteer group of coaches and leaders, including some former IOI competitors. To prepare the students’ skills in Java programming and the Eclipse universal platform, this all-volunteer staff uses IBM’s CodeRuler, a game where players must program a strategy to defeat their opponents in a medieval world of conquest. Besides helping to train for the competition, learning Java skills will help students who choose careers in programming, according to Chow. “Java is now used by more than 70% of enterprises,” she says. “[This is] a good indication of what future employers are seeking in the next generation of software developers.”

Don Piele, director of the USACO team, encourages technology-using educators to send students who love the challenge of programming and wish to advance their abilities to the USACO training and competitions so that they can hone their programming skills and gain a greater understanding of the technology. “Every time we take the USA team to a foreign country to compete with other like-minded students … we come back with an understanding and appreciation of the culture of the country and many new friendships,” says Piele.

High school students interested in IOI 2005 in Poland can visit to download training materials and register for Internet programming competitions to qualify for the next USACO team.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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