Members of the computer programming team went to Rochester Institute of Technology this past weekend to compete in what many call the Olympics of computer programming. UR finished fourth overall, with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University placing first and second, respectively.
During the contest, the three-man team’s ability to work together was tested. Seniors David McClosky and Grant Farmer and sophomore David Eisenstat were given five hours to solve seven abstract problems while huddled around a computer workstation.
The problems covered a variety of topics, from star dates to a game of poker, and the team members could use nothing but teamwork and past computer programming experience to solve the problems.
Saturday’s contest was the final round of the 2003-2004 Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, the winner of which received an invitation to the World Championship, to be held in Prague, Czech Republic.
Started over 30 years ago at Texas A & M University, the ACMICPC has now grown from a regional competition to a global contest. Students come together to design software programs that require precision and understanding of advanced computer algorithms. In a competition of nothing but lines of C++ and Java code, correctly solving one problem takes a well-built team and knowledge of the material.
Einstat, Farmer and McClosky have been interested in computer programming ever since they arrived at UR.
“I heard about the team and competition through clubs and professors,” Eisenstat said. “The problems that the team had to face looked interesting to me.”
The team met twice a month to improve teamwork and time management skills in preparation for the competition. The team also learned to build a base of familiarity with the unusual language and problems typically found in the ACMICPC competition.
The hardest part about preparing for the competition was, under the pressure of time, understanding how to approach problems the way a computer would while maintaining natural intuition of how a human mind would solve it.
McClosky compared the script of computer programming to speaking exclusively in pronouns throughout one long sentence.
According to McClosky, there is an infinite number of solutions for a team to create to correctly solve a problem in this type of language.
“There are no creativity points in describing a problem to a computer,” McClosky said. “The idea is to create something that always gives the right answers the first time.”
Team Coach and Professor of Computer Science Ted Pawlicki is very proud of the team because of the difficulty of the problems and the stringent grading guidelines that the team faced this year.
“The types of problems that teams are able to solve in just five hours are equivalent to what I would give as a final project in one of my classes,” Pawlicki said.
Bloch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.