Computer programmer wins big

Gary Linscott, ArtSci ’05, took home the top prize in the TopCoder Collegiate Challenge.
Gary Linscott, ArtSci ’05, took home the top prize in the TopCoder Collegiate Challenge.

It’s not often a student is awarded $13,000 U.S. for seven hours of work.

Gary Linscott, ArtSci ’05, took home the cash as the top prize winner in the 2005 TopCoder Collegiate Challenge. The competition was hosted by TopCoder, Inc., an American software and programming company.

“I was confident that I could win, but I didn’t think that I was actually going to win,” he said.

Linscott, who graduated this year with a degree in computer science, said his attitude towards coding helped him succeed. “My dedication and curiosity about how things work is what makes me a good programmer,” he said.

Linscott placed fourth in the two-month-long semi-finals held over the Internet and went on to compete in the finals held in California.

The three-day event featured three different categories: algorithm, design and development. Linscott competed in the latter category along with three other finalists. All three students were from China’s Zhejiang University, a school Linscott called “a powerhouse for computer programming.”

The competition required contestants to develop software by making upwards of six improvements, all in a seven-hour time slot.

Linscott said the challenge made for a long day.

“Us computer science people are used to sitting in front of a computer, but you have to step back from the problems and take little breaks to stay focused,” he said. “I was quite familiar with TopCoder’s process and the stuff I was expected to do.”

Linscott focused on improving five of the six problem areas, while his competitors focused on perfecting three of the six. Points were tallied based on the quality of improvements.

By the end of the competition, Linscott had accumulated a score of 627.73, with his closest rival earning a score of 407.

Linscott said he has been programming since he was five years old, when he would type simple gaming code into his family’s PC. He said he didn’t become a serious programmer until high school.

With 10 years of programming under his belt, Linscott has worked as a software developer for many major corporations, including Game Titan, where he helped create and publish several GameBoy Advance games.

The TopCoder win is at the top of his list of accomplishments, Linscott said.

He said he plans on spending the prize money on a Honda hybrid car. As for the summer, he is “taking off some much needed time,” and is planning a trip either to Europe or to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. In August, Linscott will be relocating to Seattle, where he will start a full-time job at Microsoft as a software developer.

“Microsoft is a great place to start a career off,” he said. “I am just so lucky. If other people want to pay me for something I enjoy doing, then great.”

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