Alberta University wows ’em at international programming contest


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

The Edmonton-based team placed 11th among 83 teams worldwide. It was one of five Canadian university teams participating. The team also placed second team in North America, behind Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The ACM-ICPC competition involves student teams of three who have five hours to answer ten questions – equivalent to a semester’s worth of computer programming problems – in front of a live audience and using programming languages like C++ and Java.

According to contest officials, C++ was the most popular language used, with 167 solutions submitted using that programming language.

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

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

About a third of the 83 teams solved five problems with half of them working out the first one in 30 minutes. MIT took only 10 minutes 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 of computer science at the University of Alberta. Along with 11th place, the Alberta team also earned a bronze and US$1050 in prize money.

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

“We don’t like to think about it, we try as hard as we can and if did that then we are happy,” said Andrew Neitsch, two days before the competition. Neitsch recently graduated with an honours math 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 four questions right. Last year, the team was fourth. It had won the competition in 1994 and 1999.

IBM Corp., who has been sponsoring the ACM-ICPC world finals since 1997, often uses the event to recruit new developer talent.

“We believe it is important to focus the spotlight on academic problem solving and careers in technology. It’s that creativity and potential that is so essential to the future of our company, the industry and the economy,” said Doug Heintzman, IBM sponsorship executive for the ACM-ICPC.

IBM also announced during this year’s world finals that it would be extending its sponsorship through to 2012. The current sponsorship contract was to expire next year. Heintzman said by extending its sponsorship, IBM hopes to create awareness of the ACM-ICPC competition into the high school space around the globe.

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

Also held was the ICPC Java Challenge, an event that usually takes place the day before the world finals. It gives participants a chance to have some fun while programming a computer game that would compete against other teams. Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby, BC finished seventh in the Java Challenge and was the top team in North America.

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


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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