Programming talent search 2004 kicks off

Builder: If you know when Lady Lovelace was born, or when Alan Turing developed his famous test for artificial intelligence, you could be on you way to win this year's Brain Academy...

You don't need a pretty face to win, but you do need brains and an aptitude for coding. Brain Academy is an online audition run by the Computer Science Department at London's Queen Mary College to find the developers of the future.

Last year's winner, Adam Kramer from North London, won a bursary valued at almost £15,000 to study Computer Science at Queen Mary, and the opportunity to enter Microsoft's graduate programme when he completes his degree. This year, the competition has been widened to include three winners, who will all be offered an automatic interview for a degree at the department, without having to meet the normal entry requirements.

The winners will also win a notebook computer, copies of Microsoft software such as Visual Studio.NET 2003 Academic Edition, textbooks, £500 in cash, and career development opportunities based on their interests. These will include a guaranteed interview for the Microsoft Student Intern Programme, a guaranteed interview for the Microsoft Graduate Programme on graduation, and work experience at CNET Networks UK, the publishers of Builder UK and ZDNet UK. This work experience will be tailored to suit the individual, but is likely to include a mixture of editorial work, with the chance to get their articles syndicated on Builder and ZDNet sites worldwide, and shadowing the in-house development team to see how a major international online operation is built and run.

Brain Academy -  like Fame Academy, which inspired the idea -  is an eliminator competition. Entrants in Brain Academy v2.0 need to complete a computer science quiz, before being able to access a programming exercise that tests the entrants' computer science knowledge. Finalists will then be interviewed before winners are announced in January 2005 to begin their studies in September.

The competition is intended to provide an opportunity for people to learn about computer science and encourage them to consider the field as a career option. Computer science degree programmes teach students to use automated approaches to solve technical problems, create new technologies and write software packages. Graduates enter a variety of careers, including e-commerce; business analysis; programming; and computer journalism.

Dr Peter McOwan of Queen Mary's Department of Computer Science said: "Being able to write software gives you the ability to turn your ideas into digital reality… Computer science can change the world."

Brain Academy is open to people of all ages, whether they are completing their A-levels or currently in the workforce and wanting to advance their career. The first stage of the competition is to answer ten multiple-choice questions, which can be found here.