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Students compete in computer programing contest

October 29, 2009
By Rebecca Howard

12 CSU students are set to compete in the 34th annual IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest Saturday, Oct. 31.

A battle of the brains

While many college students are looking forward to putting on their Halloween costumes this Saturday, 12 CSU students are gearing up for a different event.

These students from the Department of Computer Science are preparing to take on competitors from four other universities in the 34th annual IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.

Their programming skills will be put to the test in a five hour competition that has been deemed an all-out “battle of the brains.” The students will have to take on nine problems based on “real-world” scenarios. According to Benjamin Say, who is the coach for the CSU teams, this competition is no easy task.

“These problems sometimes have a common algorithm as a solution, but the wording cleverly disguises exactly which algorithm might be useful,” he said. “Coming up with an algorithm to solve the problem is a large part of the contest.”

Making the teams

While CSU students have competed in the ACM ICPC before, it has been several years since CSU has participated in the competition. Say, who competed in the event during his undergraduate studies at the University of South Dakota, volunteered to serve as the CSU coach and help bring CSU students to the competition.

Four teams consisting of three CSU students each will be participating in the competition. Some of the students have experience from competing in similar events, while others have little to no experience. According to Say, he has been holding mock-contests for the teams to prepare them for the actual competition.

Meet one of the competitors

Brandon Schaffer, a freshman Computer Science major, is one of the students that will be competing. Although it is only his first year in college, his interest in computers and computer programming started long before he came to CSU.

“I honestly cannot remember when I started playing with computers or why I enjoyed it so much,” Schaffer said. “I know I first started programming in seventh grade because I wanted to make video games.”

Although he no longer is interested in developing video games, Schaffer is still passionate about computer programming.

“I loved the idea of programming as it allows machines to perform elaborate tasks using mind numbingly simple commands,” he said.

While some may find being in this competition as a freshman intimidating, Schaffer said he actually looks forward to the challenge. He said he is excited to work with and compete against other students that have more experience than him.

High hopes

The CSU students will be competing against teams from Montana State University, University of Wyoming, US Air Force Academy and University of Colorado at Boulder, who is hosting the competition. The finalists from this regional event will go on to compete at the World Finals in Harbin, China this February. Say has high hopes for the CSU students.

“My hope is that at least one of the teams will advance to the finals. The teams definitely have the potential to do so,” Say said. “Also, I hope the teams gain programming skills from this experience, as I know the contest helped me to become a better programmer in the past, and I want the same for the students who are involved.”

Schaffer is very confident that he and his fellow students will perform well.
“I think CSU will dominate the competition,” he said.