By Fran Broderick
Every year, talented computing students from across the globe compete in the prestigious ACM-ICPC International Collegiate Programming Contest. Contestants in the world championship, which will be held next year in St. Petersburg, Russia, are made up of winners from regional competitions that are held across the world. This year, RIT played host to the Northeast North America Regional Competition on November 3rd, welcoming competitors from schools that included MIT, Harvard, and the University of Connecticut.
Pictured: Zach Langley, Nate Smith, and Alex Lange tackle a problem during the programming competition.
76 teams from 37 schools originally competed for slots in the regional finals at the Golisano College. Led by computer science department chair Paul Tymann, the RIT team featured undergraduate students Zach Langley, Nate Smith, and Alex Lange. The 3-person team shared a computer terminal and a white board as they endeavored to tackle complex problems intended to reflect real-world challenges that computer scientists help solve.
Students are faced with eight problems during the competition and the team that answers the most questions correctly is the winner, with ties broken by fastest completion time. While many of the questions are written in a light-hearted way, each of them presents significant challenges that must be worked through by team members. For example, here’s question #4 from last weekend’s competition:
Pablo Picasso visited the Soviet Union and was impressed by the nested dolls he saw. Now he wants to create his own version. As you can imagine, Picasso’s dolls will be triangles and rectangles. He has already constructed some dolls and now wonders: what is the largest number of dolls that can nest together?
IBM has been the presenting sponsor of the contest since 1997 and on their web site they describe the questions and competition as such: “Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds, and build software systems that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges. For a well-versed computer science student, some of the problems require precision only. Some problems require a knowledge and understanding of advanced algorithms. Still, some others are simply hard to solve.”
Zach Langley, who ultimately hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical computer science, felt solving the problems presented much more difficulty than the coding of the solutions: “The problems tend to be very algorithmic in nature – that is, it is usually much harder to solve them than to code them.”
Tymann was proud of his team and described their work as an “incredible performance”. RIT trailed only MIT and the University of Connecticut in the final tally and while only the top two teams advance to the world championships in Russia, RIT may still be given a berth via a wild card slot. According to Tymann it is not uncommon for ACM World Championship winners to receive job offers on the spot as they typically represent the finest programming minds at the collegiate level.
2012 Northeast North America Regional Results:
2. University of Connecticut
4. McGill University
5. Colgate University
6. University of Massachusetts - Amherst
7. University of New Brunswick at Fredericton (Canada)
8. Harvard University
9. Universite de Moncton (Canada)
10. University of New Brunswick St. John (Canada)
By Fran Broderick