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UVa group heads to Calif. for computer competition

From Daily Progress
March 20, 2003

By Kate Andrews

(Front row from left) Jon McCune, Mike Margolis (Back row from left) Mathew Suhocki and Chris Frost are members of the UVa Association for Computing Machinary programing team.

There will be cut-throat competition this weekend in Los Angeles for golden statuettes — and computer programming stature.
The Academy Awards and the Association for Computer Machinery’s programming competition have little in common on the surface, aside from location and timing, but both require dedication to craft. For four University of Virginia students, none of whom has been to California before, the computing contest represents an opportunity to work and play.
Seniors Mike Margolis, Jon McCune and Matthew Suhocki and junior Chris Frost will face stiff competition from worldwide college teams. The group’s most serious threat, however, is arriving all the way from … Blacksburg.
Just the mention of Virginia Tech, traditionally a frontrunner in the competition, brings out the trash talk.
The teams first butted heads a few years ago when “they walked in and stuck a big flag in the middle of the floor,” Margolis recounted. “Then, [a Tech team member] wanted a chair I was using.”
“That’s how all good feuds start,” quipped David Brogan, the coach.
“I think UVa students are a lot more well-balanced than some of those students,” Margolis said.
Kidding aside, all of the teams that arrive at the international level take the contest — in which competitors complete eight programming problems in five hours — very seriously, said Gabby Silberman of IBM, which has sponsored the competition for six years.
“It’s an extremely competitive contest,” he noted. Seventy teams are chosen from the student participants, some of whom later work for IBM, Silberman said.
Organization is vital to success, McCune said.
“The important thing is to divide up the work,” he said. “If you have lots of problems, you don’t have time to fix them.”
Also, McCune said, “it’s important not to attach too much pride to your solution. If it goes wrong, you’ve got to throw it out.”
Humility, teamwork — sounds a little different from the Oscars. Still, the computer teammates hope to see a few stars during their visit.
“We’ll have some fun, no doubt,” Margolis said.

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