Industry coders fail to make the final in BCS competition

No industry teams have got through to the final of the BCS Programming Competition this year, leaving scratch teams of friends...

No industry teams have got through to the final of the BCS Programming Competition this year, leaving scratch teams of friends from different fields to challenge the academic world, writes John Kavanagh.

But a university victory is far from certain because two of the scratch teams were among the three highest scorers in the heats. Six university teams and four others will contest the final, to be held on 29 March.

The competition, now in its 19th year, is open to teams of up to five people aged 18 or over, including a team manager. The role of the team manager is to co-ordinate the activities of their team, allocate tasks, determine the order in which the problems are attempted and give general advice.

Teams solve as many coding problems as possible against the clock. The event tests management and team skills as well as programming expertise, not least because each team has only one computer.

Donal Stewart, an IT contractor and manager of a team of friends who were at Edinburgh University six years ago, says he was surprised to get to the final at the first attempt. "The problems are the kind of thing we used to get given at university and we were a bit out of practice compared with the university teams," he says. The team did have a practice session together before the heat, however.

The BCS Programming Competition provided an excuse for an annual reunion for five friends from Newcastle University, who for the past five years have travelled not only from across the UK but also from Scandinavia to take part.

"This is our first time in the final and we are determined to win," said team manager Andy Hughes, who is currently studying for a PhD; his team mates mostly work in IT.

The third scratch team, self-effacingly called Monkeys with Typewriters, consists of manager Kyle Miller, a team leader at electronic design automation specialist Zuken, his colleague Paul Clewes, and Robert Pattenden, a former university friend of Clewes and a software engineer at computer games developer Codemasters.

This team came fourth in the final last year - its first time in the competition. "We all enjoy the test of our abilities in the competition environment," Clewes says.

The other scratch team is a group formed of friends formerly at Sydney University in Australia.

The best performance in the heats was by Trinity College, Cambridge, which provided the final winning team in 2000 and the runner-up in 2001.

The other finalists are from the University of East Anglia, University College London, Warwick University, the University of Abertay Dundee and Glasgow University. Most of these have been finalists in recent years.

All participants receive an exclusive T-shirt, and heat winners get prizes. The eventual champions get further prizes, plus individual BCS shields and the trophy.

In 2002, Cisco Systems was the first industry team in three years to win the event, breaking the recent dominance of university teams.

BCS Programming Competition finalists


Problems solved

Trinity College, Cambridge


Friends from Edinburgh


Friends from Newcastle


University of East Anglia


University College London


Warwick University


Friends from Sydney


Monkeys with Typewriters


University of Abertay Dundee


Glasgow University









  • The competition languages are C and C++ (Visual C/C++ version 6) and Java (Standard Edition 1.3.1). Visual Basic (version 6) is available on a limited basis 
  • The competition is supported by E-Competitions, the UK focus initiative for IT competitions and award schemes.

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