CMU programmers place third nationally

IBM and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) have announced the kickoff of the 30th annual International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), the largest and most prestigious programming contest in the world. Teams of three students were challenged to use their programming skills and mental endurance to solve complex, real-world problems under a grueling deadline, while vying for a spot at the Contests World Finals in San Antonio, Texas, April 9?13, 2006. Carnegie Mellon had two teams participate in this year?s ACM East Central North America Regional Programming Contest.

CMU?s Dragons team, consisting of Jeff Schroder, a junior ECE major, Evan Danaher, a sophomore CS major, and Andrew Warshaver, also a sophomore CS major, placed fifth, while CMU?s Cardinals team placed 10th. The four teams that finished ahead of CMU were from the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto, placing CMU as the third university in the region.
Over five hours, each team had to complete eight real-world problems. Competitors were only given a problem statement ? not a requirements document. They had example test data, but no access to the judges? test data or acceptance criteria. Teammates collaborated to rank the difficulty of the problems, determine the requirements, and build software systems to solve the problems under the scrutiny of expert judges.
Some of the problems required the knowledge of a 200-level computer science course. Other problems required an understanding of advanced algorithms. The judging is strict. Each incorrect solution submitted is given a specific time penalty; the team that solves the most problems with the fewest attempts in the least cumulative time is declared the winner. CMU?s Dragons
team managed to solve every problem.
Professor Greg Kesden and Dr. Eugene Fink are the advisors for Carnegie Mellon?s teams. ?Advising this competition has given me a chance to work with the best, most competitive students,? said Kesden, a sixth-year advisor. ?I?m a people person; I love working with others. This has been a great opportunity to get involved with students who do research, and there is nothing better than getting involved with students who want to be the best.?
Fink is also coaching the teams. He wanted to teach a competition programming technology elective which gives credit, incentive, and practice to students interested in these competitions.
Kesden admitted to being very nervous during the competition ? he thought the team had barely solved any problems.
?We solved the first problem very quickly. And we knew how to solve the others but we couldn?t get them to work,? explained Andrew Warshaver, Dragons team member. ?They had numerous bugs that prevented the programs from running. Halfway through the competition we were only in 13th place. With an hour left a few schools had already finished all eight problems. We knew that if we wanted to go to world finals we would have to solve all eight problems. In the last hour, we pulled our act together.?
Since IBM became the sponsor in 1997, participation in the ICPC has increased by a factor of five, growing to involve several tens of thousands of the finest students and faculty in computing disciplines at over 1582 universities from 71 countries on six continents.
IBM is proud to sponsor such a prestigious competition. ?We do it to invest in the education of our youth,? said Doug Heintzman, Director of Technical Strategy, IBM Software, and sponsorship executive of the ICPC. ?We also get access to the best, brightest computer and engineering students in the world.?
The competition is meant to give students more than just competitive programming experience. For example, last year, IBM brought Blue Jean, the world?s fastest supercomputer, to Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Students were given the opportunity to program on this specialized computer and have their programs compete against each other.
The ICPC also promotes IBM as a possible career choice. In fact, over 95 of the world championship winners thus far have been employed at IBM as interns, full-time employees, or interns in their Extreme Blue Internship program.
Each year the ICPC gets more competitive. The top two universities from each region are guaranteed a spot in the World Finals. If a team finishes third, the judges can decide, based on a set of criteria, to give that team a ?wild card? to go to the world finals. The team has the opportunity to optimize a problem or mitigate anomalies and be reassessed for the finals. Historically, wild cards have been given to the largest regions, including CMU?s region. Since the Dragons placed third, there is a good chance the team can make it to the world finals. However, they will not find out until December.
Last year, the ACM-ICPC world finals took place in Shanghai, China, where the team from Shanghai Jiao Tong University emerged as world champions. Winners of the competition receive awards and prizes ranging from laptops to scholarships.
Those at the top are very impressed. ?When I go to these competitions, it is such a thrill,? said Heintzman. ?These competitions really give students an opportunity to harness and focus their potential into creative output. It is very heady to be there and be a part of harnessing that potential.?