By Nicole Kobie
Stanford. Harvard. MIT. The University of Calgary. These schools are all sending teams to the Association for Computing International Collegiate Programming Contest in Orlando, Florida.
The five-hour, IBM-sponsored competition, which tests computer programming skills, includes teams of three from countries around the world. Of the 2,400 original teams, only 60–including the U of C Computer Science students Bradley Arlt, Dianna Fox and Michael Boyle–advanced to the finals.
"Last November we participated in a North American Mountain Regional competition," said Boyle. "Although we finished third, it was sufficient to earn us a place in the finals."
The contest involves writing a program to solve a set of problems as quickly as possible. The problems can include a variety of domains, including games, math or economics.
"Sometimes the solutions are immediately apparent, [but] sometimes the obvious solution is wrong," said Boyle.
The skill level required to write such programs is that of a basic undergraduate computer science student, according to IBM public relations representative Stephanie Rasmussen.
"To win the finals, [the teams] must be very good at programming, testing and debugging their applications," said Rasmussen. "They must also work well together as a team, a skill that will be very useful after graduation."
Boyle agrees teamwork is critical in competition.
"We find that we do best when all six eyes are concentrating on the same problem, at the same time," said Boyle. "Being friends first and teammates second is also important to our success."
While the team considers having fun and preserving the spirit of international exchange the highest priority, they also hope to do well.
"We’re keen to prove ourselves and the U of C as foremost among the top echelon of schools in the world," Boyle said.
The team is practising weekly using problem sets from previous years and regional contests from around the globe.
"The contest itself is a solid five hours, and we try to mimic the contest situation as much as possible in our practices," explained Boyle.
Fox is one of the few women to make it to the finals this year. One of the goals of the competition is to increase the number of women involved in technology-related field.
"According to the American Association of Engineering Societies, only 18.6 per cent of students receiving engineering and technology degrees are women," said Rasmussen. "If this fun contest encourages more women to choose computer science and engineering careers, that’s great."
The competition runs Mar. 15-19, with prizes including scholarships, hardware, software, and the ACM’s "smartest trophy in the world."