Friday, Feb. 22, 2013
Teen programmer earns elite honor in Google contest
By BETH LIPOFF
Special to The Star
When it comes to computer programming, Matthew Bauer is an old pro. After all, he’s been programming for about six years — since he was 11.
The Shawnee Mission South junior recently proved his skills when he was named as one of 20 teens to win the Google Code-In open source programming contest. Only three other students in the United States earned the honor.
He got interested in the contest while looking at information about Google’s Summer of Code, an internship program for college students.
Matthew and the other winners will get a free trip to Mountain View, Calif., to visit Google’s headquarters. His fellow competitors came from 36 different countries, including India, China and Bulgaria. All contestants had to be between 13 and 17 years old, and 334 teenagers worldwide entered.
The contest itself is like a remote internship for a technology company. Each entrant had to complete various tasks for a specific company, such as writing a how-to guide for software, rewriting computer code and testing code written by others.
The Code-In ran for seven weeks, from Nov. 26 to Jan. 14. On average, the contestants completed six tasks apiece; Matthew said he finished 10. He estimated that each took him about four or five hours of work to complete. The competitors were allowed to work on just one task at a time.
“It takes a lot of time, and you have to make sure you’re doing everything right,” Matthew said. “It’s really cool to say I contributed to something people actually use.”
Ten open source organizations served as sponsors of projects. Matthew chose NetBSD, a company that makes an open source operating system that is usually used on server computers.
When a program is open source, it means that the details of its design are public, and people who use it often contribute to the code to make it better. Popular programs that are open source include the Mozilla Firefox web browser and the WordPress blogging tool.
According to the contest’s guidelines, the purpose of the competition is both to develop future contributors to open source projects and to help the companies that work on these projects catch problems in their programs that might otherwise have been overlooked.
Each company assigned the students their particular tasks and provided mentors to answer questions and grade the completed work. At the end of the contest, every company picked its top two entrants to receive the grand prize.
Matthew has contributed to open source software design before, submitting “patches” that fix bugs in the program, but those other experiences were not as intense as the Google contest, he said. He especially enjoys tinkering with code for image and video editing software to see how it works.
Whenever he gets stuck on coding work, Matthew said he steps away from the computer and takes a walk to clear his head.
“You can get bogged down in how fragile the code can be,” he said.
He usually takes computer science at school but took the semester off from that class to focus on the contest.
“Matthew approaches programming with an inquisitive mind. He’s constantly looking for a better way to meet the programming objective. I can almost see the wheels turning in his mind whenever we learn a new concept,” said Ramona Weigel, the computer science teacher at South.
He’s looking forward to meeting the other 19 grand prize winners when he takes the trip to California, which will include an award ceremony, a meeting with Google engineers and sightseeing in nearby San Francisco.
In the future, he plans to keep learning more computer science and hopes to major in the subject when he goes to college.