Alberta University wows em at international programming contest

The University of Alberta has emerged as the top Canadian teamat the 30th Annual Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) world finalsheld Wednesday in San Antonio, Tex.

The Edmonton-based team placed 11th among 83 teams worldwide. Itwas one of five Canadian university teams participating. The teamalso placed second team in North America, behind MassachusettsInstitute of Technology (MIT).

The ACM-ICPC competition involves student teams of three whohave five hours to answer ten questions – equivalent to asemester’s worth of computer programming problems – in front of alive audience and using programming languages like C++ andJava.

According to contest officials, C++ was the most popularlanguage used, with 167 solutions submitted using that programminglanguage.

Saratov State University in Russia was crowned world champion asit solved the most problems correctly in the fastest time.Jagiellonian University, Poland came in second, while Altai StateTechnical University, also from Russia came in third. All answeredsix questions correctly and received gold medals. Saratov did itthe fastest and also won US$10,060 for its efforts.

“This was one of the closest world finals ever,” said BillPoucher, executive director, ACM-ICPC.

About a third of the 83 teams solved five problems with half ofthem working out the first one in 30 minutes. MIT took only 10minutes to crack the first problem.

The team from Alberta solved four problems.

“The four we solved, we did them really well and very quickly,”said Zachary Friggstad, who is in his first year of his masters ofcomputer science at the University of Alberta. Along with 11thplace, the Alberta team also earned a bronze and US$1050 in prizemoney.

At last year’s event in Shanghai, Alberta also solved fourproblems but that was only good enough for 29th place. Before thisyear’s competition, the team didn’t want to predict theirplacing.

“We don’t like to think about it, we try as hard as we can andif did that then we are happy,” said Andrew Neitsch, two daysbefore the competition. Neitsch recently graduated with an honoursmath degree from the University of Alberta.

Canada also placed another team amongst the top 12 in the world.The University of Waterloo finished 12th, also answering fourquestions right. Last year, the team was fourth. It had won thecompetition in 1994 and 1999.

IBM Corp., who has been sponsoring the ACM-ICPC world finalssince 1997, often uses the event to recruit new developertalent.

“We believe it is important to focus the spotlight on academicproblem solving and careers in technology. It’s that creativity andpotential that is so essential to the future of our company, theindustry and the economy,” said Doug Heintzman, IBM sponsorshipexecutive for the ACM-ICPC.

IBM also announced during this year’s world finals that it wouldbe extending its sponsorship through to 2012. The currentsponsorship contract was to expire next year. Heintzman said byextending its sponsorship, IBM hopes to create awareness of theACM-ICPC competition into the high school space around theglobe.

“You have to intercept these students at a pretty young age andget them interested and dreaming about [programming contests] andget them hungry to become problem solvers at a pretty young age,”he said.

Also held was the ICPC Java Challenge, an event that usuallytakes place the day before the world finals. It gives participantsa chance to have some fun while programming a computer game thatwould compete against other teams. Simon Fraser University (SFU) inBurnaby, BC finished seventh in the Java Challenge and was the topteam in North America.

SFU tied for 19th in the world finals along with the Universityof Toronto. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, thefifth Canadian team in the competition, tied for 13th.

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