BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — They may be in Hollywood, but star gazing is the last thing University of New Brunswick team members have in mind at the 27th ACM International Collegiate Programming contest, sponsored by IBM.

It’s a Monday night at the Beverly Hilton, and they’re gearing up for the

big competition the following morning. It’s practice, practice, practice, something the team knows has brought it further than UNB has ever come before in this contest.

Because ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) competitions in North America do not keep Canada and the U.S. separate, UNB actually stacked up against Boston’s Harvard University and had the opportunity to eliminate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make it to the world finals.

Every year, says team veteran Graham Fyffe, the UNB team has progressed further in the competition. While everyone on the team — Fyffe, Sean Falconer, Nathan Scott and reserve Tom Robichaud — has seen their programming skills improve, coach Oleg Golubitsky said what’s really at the heart of the team is good communications skills.

“”I’ve never seen people in this competition work together so well.”” Golubitsky is also a veteran competitor, having represented Russia’s Moscow State University in past contests.

Despite hearing the stories about a tight job market for those with IT skills, the UNB team members are not overly concerned about their career prospects, in part because of their presence at the event.

“”We’ve been getting a lot of offers,”” said Falconer.

Fyffe has decided he doesn’t enjoy working for others — he already has his own one man software company — and sees a future for himself in research.

Alan Skelley, coach of the University of Toronto team, doesn’t worry about his team’s job prospects either, even if the employment market remains difficult.

“”These guys are so above average, they’re not going to be affected by that,”” he said.

Team member Liviu Tancau said the competition is a real eye opener because there are so many talented students from so many countries.

“”You get exposed to new ways of thinking,”” he said.

IBM is still hiring in key areas, says John Swainson, general manager of application and integration with IBM Software Group’s middleware division.

“”My group will hire about 1,000 people this year,”” he said, noting that number is a global number. IBM’s development lab in Markham, Ont., expects to add about 50 to 80 employees this year.

“”We’re still actively recruiting and promoting the importance of computer science programs,”” said Swainson.

Recruitment is a high priority for IBM, said Margaret Ashida, IBM’s director of university relations. “”This competition is a wonderful scouting opportunity.””

Diversity is also on IBM’s checklist, but it’s proving to be a challenge, she said, especially when interest in computer science is waning at the middle school and high school level.

Only 1.4 per cent of the compet

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