By Colleen Carow
Making the leap from 80th to 57th place is a feat when one is competing against more than 11,000 other computer programmers. Ohio University computer science graduate student Hiep Dinh did just that with his third run in Google.com's annual Code Jam.
As an undergraduate computer science major in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, Dinh has placed 80th twice in the contest, which asks professional and student programmers to solve complex algorithmic challenges in a set amount of time.
This year, Google treated Dinh and the other top 500 North and South America finishers to an all-expense-paid trip to New York City in September to compete for the top 100 spots. While Dinh won $500 for his 57th-place finish, only the top 21 from that round will move on to the international finals at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Dinh, a native of Vietnam, is no stranger to coding competitions. He won TopCoder's national college competitions in 2005 and 2006. In 2004 through 2006, he helped the Russ College's student Association of Computing Machinery team place in the top five of 60 to 70 universities battling it out in regional competitions.
Dinh said those experiences helped hone his skills. "Real competitions gave me the real experiences of the pressure and stress one would have to deal with during actual on-site programming," he said.
Assistant Chair and Associate Professor of Computer Science David Juedes said Dinh's problem-solving skills are remarkable.
"His ability to succeed at programming contests such as Google Code is simply amazing," Juedes said. "To me, he is the student that every professor wants in their classroom. He solves problems thoroughly, and is always asking the questions 'Are you sure this works?' and Why?'"
Dinh credited the Russ College and Juedes for teaching him how to approach today's powerful programming languages, which he wasn't familiar with before college.
"I also enjoyed exploring the world of computational complexity during discussions and tutorials with Dr. Juedes," he said.
Although he didn't make it to the final round in Mountain View this November, Dinh has beaten his competitors there.
As he awaits conferral of his Ohio University degree, he is pursuing a career as a software engineer with leading Internet infrastructure company Verisign, also headquartered in Mountain View.
Sarah Ryan contributed to this story.