Olympiad boffs are all fired up

TWO programming whiz-kids from Nelson Mandela Bay will take part in the final of the Computer Olympiad, which will be held at the University of Cape Town at the end of the month.

Matriculants Matthew Cherry, 18, from St Dominic's Priory High School and Pearson High School's Shaylan Lalloo, 18, beat 4700 participants to make it to the top 15 of the Computer Olympiad.

Lalloo, who recently returned from the International Mathematical Olympiad in Colombia, South America, was the first ever competitor to be invited to participate in the olympiad instead of having to compete as the others did.

This was due to the fact that he was competing in the International Olympiad at the time the first round took place.

He had previously come fourth in the competition – making him the Eastern Cape's top competitor.

"It's an exciting experience," Lalloo said.

"I enjoy olympiads a lot, as they encourage different ways of thinking and are extremely challenging."

Lalloo, who hopes to study actuarial sciences at the University of Cape Town, said what he liked most about programing was getting a computer to do whatever he wanted.

"I enjoyed the vastness of possibilities and when I saw the chance to take IT in school, I took it. And I just found out that I really liked programming from there," Lalloo said.

During the two-day competition, the top 15 will be given three problems each day and five hours to write the programmes that will solve those problems.

They will be required to use one of three computer programming languages to write their programmes – either Java, C++ or Python.

Cherry's desire to create computer games is what sparked his interest in programming.

The Grade 12 pupil, who only entered the olympiad for fun and to see how well he could do, will be participating in his first finals.

"It feels great, it's really nice to be acknowledged for something you think you are good at," Cherry said.

The competitors stand a chance to win R6000 for themselves and R5000 for their school if they come first.

There is also an additional prize of R30000 for the winner, if the competitors utilise Python as their programming language instead of Java or C++.

The Python prize money is sponsored by Mark Shuttleworth, who hopes to encourage the use of the programming language.

South African Computer Olympiad Trust manager Peter Waker said the initiative identified children who were talented, encouraged them to continue in their pursuits, and also rewarded them.