Queen’s U student wins international TopCoder prize

A fourth-year computer science student at Queen’s University in Kingston has emerged from a field of 1,300 college and university students from around the world to win the top spot in the Component Development Division of the 2005 TopCoder

Collegiate Challenge in Santa Clara, California.

Along with the title, Gary Linscott won US$13,000 of the US$150,000 total prize money for the international event.  He was the only Canadian winner.

Linscott, 22, whose TopCoder handle is Gladius, defeated three finalists from Zhejiang University in China for top spot in the Component Development category.  Winners in the Algorithm and Component Design categories hailed from The Netherlands and Romania, respectively.

TopCoder, a U.S.-based firm focused on online programming competition, skills assessment and competitive software development, has awarded more than US$2.2 million over the past three years, the highest for all competitions worldwide, according to director of communications Jim McKeown.  He added that there are other notable programming competitions “but we really highlight the ‘Top Guns’ of coding on an individual basis.  It’s all about execution under incredible stress.”

The finals competition hinged on solving a complex coding problem in just six hours, which involved making improvements to a supplied project.

The problem involved the use of a Dependency Map Renderer that TopCoder intends to use to display relationships graphically so developers will be able to browse and view a hierarchy of components.

Linscott said he had to draw a dependency map that looked good. “The definition of ‘looking good’ was supplied for you, and it required some tricky programming.  Deciding where to position the leaves of the tree was the toughest part by far and required considerable planning and work,” he said. “We also had to document and test all of our improvements, which was quite difficult given the time constraint.”

McKeown said Linscott’s victory was remarkable. “Usually our finals are very close when it comes down to scores, but Gary won his competition with impressive numbers.” Linscott was one of the few undergrads to compete.  Almost all were Masters or PhD students.

Linscott’s work was so impressive that McKeown said “there is a good chance Gary’s component will find it’s way into the TopCoder catalogue — but there is much ‘polishing’ to be done, and we would likely involve Gary in that process.”

Linscott started working at Nortel in Ottawa at 15 while still a high-school student.  One of Linscott’s projects involved developing the Web page for the firm’s OC-48 products, which he describes as the “telecommunications backbone product Nortel sold.”

In 2001 Linscott worked with Texas-based GameTitan LLC, a game-development firm for Nintendo, Xbox and GameBoy Advance.  By 19, he had written game code on the ‘SpyKids 2’ game, and had credits on GameBoy Advance’s ‘SpyKids Challenger’, ‘Jazz Jackrabbit’ and ‘Cat in the Hat.’

For the past two summers, Linscott has worked at Microsoft, where he has been “developing a prototype using C# and Avalon,” the next generation of Windows GUI.  After graduating, Linscott said he has a job lined up with Microsoft working on an “in-development project that we’re not really allowed to talk about.”  He said the public will see it in about two years, and thinks “people will be pretty excited about it.” He hinted it had something to do with the Windows “Longhorn” operating system—the next big launch from Microsoft.

Linscott’s TopCoder victory isn’t his first brush with notoriety in the computer programming field.  He is a long-time member of Queen’s University Association of Computing Machines (ACM) Team, which he has led to the World Finals several times.  In Prague, Czech Republic 2004, the Queen’s team finished 12th out of the 73 three-person teams from 31 countries.  He is now a coach for the team.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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