ON MARCH 25 a team of computer-programming students from Comenius University in Bratislava proved once again that Slovak students are among the best in the world.
The team was one of four awarded gold medals at the 27th annual world finals of an international collegiate programming contest, held in Beverly Hills, California.
The finals, won by students of Warsaw University, included the 70 best teams out of 2,873 from 68 countries that participated in the contest, in which teams were given a computer and five hours to solve six problems of varying difficulty.
This was the eighth time that a team from Slovakia's largest university made it into the world finals of this prestigious competition. The three-member Slovak team comprised Richard Královič, Ján Oravec, and Michal Foríšek.
Michal Winczer, a lecturer at Comenius University and coach of the successful team, said that choosing who would take part in the contest was a time-consuming process.
"In order to put together a team in which each member is able to solve any of the given problems, the university organises two school rounds of individual contests. Based on results of the individual competitions we create teams that represent us in the regional round," he said.
There are five regional rounds in Europe and 30 worldwide.
The coach identified several reasons why Slovakia is able to consistently produce top programmers.
"I think it is their long-term interest in the subject. Almost all the members of our teams that managed to succeed over the years had success in international competitions at high-school level. Many of them are helping current high-school students by preparing them for international contests and organising national competitions. And we shouldn't forget the large number of teachers and parents who support them in their hobby - programming," said Winczer.
But, he added, the quality can only be maintained if enough talented people continue to put their energy into this area.
"We need to find a sufficient number of teachers who will willingly support and lead clever students. And there have to be enough enthusiasts and volunteers who will devote their time to the preparation of students for similar contests," said Winczer.
Over the years, the Comenius University teams have become a respected rival to teams from other universities around the world.
"I think we are rather well known. Only the best of the best make it into the finals, but I hope we have already made a name for ourselves there as well. After all, eight times in the finals - that's not something very many schools in the world can match," Winczer said.
With scheduled EU membership just a year away, some Slovaks are concerned that the best and brightest minds will choose to leave the country for higher paid jobs in the West. This is particularly feared in the realm of IT, leading some observers to note that Slovakia is training brilliant programmers only to lose them to foreign countries.
"As far as our former participants in this competition are concerned, they either stay in Slovakia, in which case they usually work for a company developing software or continue their studies, or they go abroad, most often to the US. There are six of them abroad at this time," said Winczer.
"I don't know whether they'll come back to Slovakia once they get their PhDs, but I would imagine they won't come back right after finishing their studies. After all, the possibilities for research and professional growth in Slovakia and abroad can hardly be compared," he concluded.
14. Apr 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila