C++ Smackdown: Competitive Coding Champ Emerges

By Erin Biba

Watching Michael Phelps set seven world records at the Olympics was exciting. But a tense computer science competition where a programmer feverishly codes and debugs a C++ or Pascal program before the clock runs out? Now that's one to really wow the grandkids.

Henadzi Karatkevich has been taking part in computing tournaments for almost half of his life - which is to say, since he was 8. The 15-year-old mathlete from Gomel, Belarus, was encouraged to pursue the "sport" by his parents, both programmers. He graduated quickly from local coding contests to national ones.

Karatkevich's most impressive victory so far was at this year's International Olympiad in Informatics in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. In the grueling two-day event, young people from around the world were tasked with writing algorithms to solve a series of thorny problems. (Example: Create a program that can calculate revenue generated by a parking garage, given space rates, car weight, and the order in which cars arrive and depart.) Karatkevich chose to spend most of his time writing epic strings of code, skimping on testing and debugging. "It was a risk, but I got lucky," he says. He was still 14 at the time of his victory, making him the youngest winner in the 20-year history of the Olympiad.

Will the new world champion go pro? Software recruiters must be salivating, but Karatkevich will be tied up in high school for the next three years. After that? "I have no concrete plans," he says. Then he clarifies: "Naturally, I will be a programmer."


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