It’s a mass of computer-programming brainpower. Teams from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the South Pacific will be joined by North American contingents, including our Michigan Tech team.
How big is it? It began last fall with over thirty thousand students from more than 2,300 universities and 91 countries. Regional qualifying contests reduced it to 366 students from 122 universities for the finals.
Those students are now in Ekaterinburg, Russia, at Ural Federal University for the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest. The event runs through Saturday, with the actual contest occurring on Wednesday, and “intense” hardly describes it.
“This is the premiere global programming competition conducted by and for the world’s universities,” says computer science’s Dave Poplawski, longtime competition coach. “With 122 of 10,000 teams remaining, only the best of the best are left. For most Asian and Eastern European teams, winning this contest is akin to winning the World Cup in soccer or the Super Bowl in football. This is a BIG DEAL!”
In the competition, each team of three students is given one computer and five hours to solve 10 to 12 “fairly difficult” programming problems. A jury prepares tests to see if the programs were written correctly to solve the problems. The team that solves the most problems wins. If there are several teams that solve the same number of problems, the winner is determined by which team solved them the fastest.
The Michigan Tech team consists of midyear 2013 math graduate Ryan McNamara and computer science majors Eric Rinkus and Thomas Holmes. Their coach is computer science PhD student Jason Hiebel. The team qualified for the finals via the North Central Regional qualifying contest last November. They took their programming skills to Chicago in March for the North American Invitational Programming Contest, as one of only two Michigan teams invited. The other was from the University of Michigan.
“The Chicago Invitational was good practice and a good test of the team’s abilities,” Poplawski adds. “They finished tenth out of 21, beating teams from larger and more prestigious universities such as Northwestern, the University of Southern California, the University of Wisconsin (a traditional rival) and the University of Virginia. This Wednesday, the years of study and practice will be on the line against the best in the world.”