Photo courtesy of Dr. Chao Zhao
Three Cameron University students won first place in the scripting section — placing third overall — of the 2012 South Central USA Regional Programming Contest, a subsection of the Association of Computer Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Contest.
Known to their competitors as the “Gold Coders,” senior Computer Science majors Marius Lipka and Nitesh Verma, together with senior Physics major James O’Doherty, huddled around a single computer to crack a series of real-world problem statements — statements that required algorithmic solutions written in Python and C++ programming languages — within five hours.
The CU students went against 21 teams from universities that offer only undergraduate programs in computer science. The competition is the oldest collegiate programming contest in the world, drawing more than 30,000 participants from over 2,200 universities in 85 countries.
According to Associate Professor Feridoon Moinian, one of the coaches who provided guidance and accompanied the students to the competition, the victory at the ACM ICPC gauges how well the CU Computing and Technology Department compares to similar programs at other universities.
“As academics, faculty and teachers, we often wonder how the quality of or program compares to bigger schools in the country,” Moinian said. “The fact that they did so well against big-name schools in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana is a testament to the quality of the program and the caliber of students we have in our program, and it is very rewarding to me.”
Verma said the team was not surprised by the difficulty of the problems they encountered, but he emphasized how other factors affected the outcome of the competition.
“Nothing seemed like it was something we had never seen before, but looking at our different parts — somebody is purely good at math, somebody is really good at coding, and somebody is really logical when solving problems — all of the problems comprise different levels we have to put together,” Verma said. “We solved as many we could, but in a few cases it required some luck to get it all right.”
Each incorrect solution that was submitted was assessed a time penalty, and the team that solved the most problems in the fewest attempts and the lowest cumulative time was declared the winner.
“We solved one [one of the problem statements] from the ones that were judged completely correct in the main competition,” Lipka said, “but in the scripting competition we finished everything.”
Since the teammates are supposed to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds and build software systems using one computer throughout the competition, relying on each other to reach the correct solution was essential. The individual members of the Gold Coders first began practicing together after a series of contests held in the 2012 spring semester scheduled to recruit members for the ACM team.
O’Doherty said he thinks the team would have advanced further in the competition if they had been able to schedule more practice sessions together.
“Our biggest weakness as a team was simply a lack of experience in terms of working with each other and being able to take a problem or a set of problems and dividing the work amounts ourselves that would be best suited toward our individual strengths,” O’Doherty said. “In fact, afterward we found out that we had completely overlooked the easiest problem that everyone else jumped on and solved first.”
However, O’Doherty said he hopes their performance at this competition this year encourages other students here to participate with him when he enters the programming contest next year.
“I think it would raise the bar in terms of students’ expectations and what they want for themselves,” O’Doherty said. “That, and I would like to have some good team members for next year.”