McNeese Student Cracks IBM National Code Hacking Challenge

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It was a race against time as 3,000 people worked to complete IBM’s national online interactive code-cracking challenge. Michael Casteel heard about the competition from a friend.

Casteel said, “I was like, ‘Sure I’ll try it out, seems interesting,’ ”.

The computer science and computer engineering student had taken on the challenge of completing six puzzles.

“Do whatever you need to do to solve the puzzle and type in the answer,” Casteel said. “Once that happened, that amount of time it took you to answer went to your total score.”

But it wasn’t just competitors from the computer science field.

“There was plenty of people from all kinds of disciplines, which was kind of the fun of it,” Casteel said. “It was a lot more lateral thinking, you didn’t need to know a lot of technical stuff.”

However, not everyone could meet the intellectual demands.

“Only about 300 finished the first puzzle,” Casteel said.

Each week, three puzzles were released and competitors had roughly 48 hours to complete them. Casteel says some took 20 minutes whereas others took hours.

“Often, it’s looking at the information you’re given and recognize what it is, and then take it and think what can I do, this is probably some kind of message hidden in this information,” Casteel said.

Dr. Catherine Anderson is Casteel’s school advisor and says he is self-motivated to learn.

“I believe my contribution to his development as a computer scientist has just been to be there, to talk to him, and advise him on what equipment he needs and gets,” Anderson said.

Casteel placed among the top 10 scorers of the competition and was able to visit IBM.

Casteel said, “It showed me so much more about what technology and what methods they use that I’ve never known before”.

But Dr. Anderson says she is not surprised Michael’s success.

Anderson said, “As I said, wherever he wants to go, he’s the type of person that goes after what he wants and that’s where he will end up.”

Casteel says he is looking forward to exploring other opportunities in the computer science world.

While he is not sure if IBM is the company for him, they are definitely in the running.

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