Doogie Howser can’t compete with the likes of Ben Joeris.
Joeris, a senior majoring in math and computer science, is one of 48 contestants who made it into the final rounds of an international competition to determine the world’s reigning champion in algorithmic computing.
Joeris beat out more than 3,300 graduate and undergraduate students from 92 countries in the online elimination rounds in August. Only four students from the United States are participating in the computer programming competition.
Five hundred dollars is given to the finalists just for traveling to the competition and participating in the final rounds, but Joeris is going for the first place prize of $10,000.
He is leaving today for the Algorithm Competition of the 2006 TopCoder Collegiate Challenge in San Diego, which begins on Wednesday. Joeris will begin the first computing challenge on Wednesday and if he makes it into the final rounds he will continue to the subsequent challenges on Thursday and Friday.
The contestants have an hour and 15 minutes to write a program that computes the solution to varying problems involving math, reasoning and statistics.
“If it takes more than two seconds to find the solution, it’s wrong,” he said.
Joeris is most excited to meet his competitors in person.
“They were just numbers in the past,” Joeris said of the anonymity of previous contests.
His mother, also a computer programmer, first introduced Joeris to programming when he was 10 years old. Boredom prompted the preteen to shelve his pastime until junior high, when his aspirations to be a video game programmer inspired him to take it up again. Joeris now plans to become a mathematics professor.
During his junior year of high school, Joeris began to take classes at CSU, under the instruction of Ross McConnell, a computer science professor.
“We have a ‘Doogie Howser’ program for students who have exhausted their high school classes,” McConnell said.
McConnell has been mentoring Joeris ever since.
“The theory of algorithms is kind of like getting good at chess,” McConnell said. “And I have just played chess with him.”
In continuing with his work, Joeris entered computer programming competitions such as the national USA Computing Olympiad, where he made it to the top 10 for two years running.
The TopCoder Challenge also holds weekly contests, in which Joeris has been participating since high school. Being ranked among the top 48 is the highest level he has ever reached.
Between competitions, Joeris assists his professor in theoretical algorithm research.
“I have felt overshadowed in my own research area,” McConnell said.
McConnell compared his understudy to the main character in the movie “Good Will Hunting,” a janitor at an Ivy League school who solves mathematic problems at night.
McConnell is confident in his pupil’s success and his ability to extract what he sees as the most important part of his work, the intricacies of math that most are unable to see.
Joeris’s solutions “exude the beauty of mathematics.”
Staff writer Emily Lance can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.