President Search

Student programmers receive international recognition, world-class internships

Published: January 31st, 2012

Category: Events


The 25 competitors converged to stretch their dexterous fingers. They typed feverishly, their eyes locked on the monitors in front of them. Some worked alone, others huddled in groups of three.

One team member’s T-shirt read: “WE CAME. WE SAW. WE CODED.” “It’s a battle between you and the screen,” said Joseph Thuemler, a third-year math major and president of the University of Florida chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery .

OK, these aren’t Ironman athletes.

However, several of these guys — there was only one woman present at a January club meeting — are international stars in their own right. In October, Thuemler was part of the UF team that ranked first in North America and 13th globally out of nearly 1,000 teams during the IEEEXtreme 5.0 24-Hour Programming Competition, sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Competitors aim to out-smart their fiercest rivals in India, or Australia, or Estonia. For 24 hours straight last fall, Thuemler and two other students endured  minimal exposure to sunlight, sequestered in the computer laboratory of the UF New Engineering Building as proctors for the IEEEXtreme 5.0 made food runs to nearby grocery stores. The competitors took turns napping while at least one person attempted to solve the next problem that popped up on the screen.

These aren’t Sudoku exercises. Algorithms and computational geometry have applications found everywhere, such as those used in Google search engines or in an endless array of medical equipment.

Tara Parkins, a senior majoring in digital arts and sciences engineering, says she doesn’t mind being one of the few female students in the club. In fact, she prefers it to the time she spent in a sorority her freshman year where her sisters didn’t understand her affinity for Pokémon. Parkins’ fascination with the ‘90s video game is a non-issue for members of the computer programming team .

“From the moment I came to a meeting, I knew it was perfect,” Parkins said.

What’s thought of as ‘genius’ may be attributed to hard work, as well.

Many of the members began programming not as child prodigies but when they were in their mid–to-late teens, devoting many sleepless nights to tinkering with code. During competition season, the club practices a minimum of 15 hours a week. That dedication is leading to results.

At least two of the members received internships at Facebook this summer, including sophomore math and computer engineering student Cheran Wu. After accepting the internship, he then turned down a subsequent, offer to work instead for Justin.TV, the San Francisco-based start-up that allows users to broadcast videos live online.

Despite this success, there’s one thing that irks these coding aficionados: Hackers.

Well, kind of.

Thuemler, who will intern at Google this summer, plans to participate in the totally legit 2012 Facebook Hacker Cup.

“We’re trying to take the word ‘hacker’ back,” he said, smiling.

For more information about the UF Computer Programming Club, contact:

Joe Thuemler, club president,

Dave Small, team coach,

By Claudia Adrien

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