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Four teams of Ohio University computer science, mathematics and Honors Tutorial College students faced off with more than 120 teams from other schools at the Association for Computing Machinery’s regional International Collegiate Programming Contest sponsored by IBM this weekend.
Supported by the college’s Russ Vision Funds, which provide “beyond the classroom” support for student competitions, research, and travel, OHIO’s twelve students traveled to the University of Cincinnati for the five-hour showdown that involved nine computer programming challenges.
Team coach and computer science Ph.D. student Chad Mourning said the anticipation at the start of the event was familiar, because he had participated in the challenge three times between 2003 and 2005.
“At the beginning of the contest, you rip open the envelope and you get a list of problems. They aren't sorted by order of difficulty. You have to have the discipline to give up if it's not working, and move on to another problem,” Mourning said. “Then you have to rely on your experiences to recognize the solution and your speed and correctness to implement it.”
The regional competition – which is part of an international challenge involving 30,000 students and faculty worldwide – is fierce but the team environment has its advantages, said Trevor Bennett, a junior computer science major.
“Two of the nine problems had a zero percent completion rate, and only one problem had a completion rate greater than 50 percent,” Bennett said. “The three advantages of working with a team rather than solo are having a more widely distributed knowledge base, having others to talk to help prevent you from getting burned out and having extra pairs of eyes to catch syntax or logic errors.”
Each OHIO team solved at least one problem, in contrast to last year when neither team solved even one.
“Some of the problems, especially those that are given as a game, can look intimidating, but they can be made easier once you identify what type of problem it is,” said junior Charlie Murphy, who studies computer science in the Honors Tutorial College. “Is it a problem solved by dynamic programming, a graph solution, or is it best solved through some other technique?”
Students who perform well gain more than a sense of accomplishment. Some gain recognition by industry leaders in the form of job prospects, like Mourning’s former teammates, who were recruited by Google.
Murphy said that for him, the contest helps to identify what the best in the field can do and what he should aim for. “I always love a challenge, and this competition only reaffirms computer science was the right choice for me.”