Concordia teams compete in international programming contest

With the ringing of the 11:30 a.m. alarm on Nov. 6, the annual ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest was underway. Eight teams at the North Dakota State University site ripped open their problem packets and the two- or three-member teams distributed problems among themselves. Then they sat; they read; they thought.

“Before we sit down at the computer, we need to read the problem and draw out figures and arrows and find out how it’s going to work,” said Ben Evert, senior at Concordia. “The hardest part is coming up with how to translate it; half the time is just spent on formatting and output.”

One of Concordia’s three registered teams, “The ALot” (based on the Alot monster—Google it), met for a practice session two days before the competition to warm up their computer programming skills and to help explain the ICPC. The competition’s world finals are held this year in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, but Connor Flaat, a sophomore, said that the main draw for the competition is that it’s good practice, good brain food, and yeah—they’d also like to beat the smaller schools in the area.

The ALot, consisting of Evert, Flaat, and sophomore Corbin Rapp, were laughing and joking at the beginning of their practice. Rapp said “We’ve got to get our game faces on,” and the others wondered if they even had game faces. It was a laid-back practice, and the team had realistic hopes about the competition.

“Concordia’s computer science department isn’t as programming-oriented as other colleges,” Evert said. “I don’t want to be a programmer, but I have a firm understanding of it.”

The team coach, Ahmed Kamel, associate professor of computer science, agreed that the goal of the ICPC was not to go to the world finals, although he chuckled and said it would be nice. Concordia registered three teams against the 225 teams in the region, the top two or three of which move on to the world finals, Kamel said.

“The world finals are not really the goal at all,” Kamel said. “The goal is for students to go out, practice programming skills, and meet students from other schools in a professional environment.”

Kamel said students who had participated in the past have enjoyed the competition, and not just the ICPC, which is the largest computer programming competition. There hasn’t been much Concordia participation in the ICPC before this year, as the closest regional testing site used to be in the Twin Cities. The last time Concordia sent students was two years ago, and that was only one team. Yet, many more programming competitions exist for the students to compete in, some of which invite students to lookfor future job possibilities, Kamel said.

The ICPC doesn’t invite students to look at prospective jobs, but it does have the benefit of a one-year membership to the ACM monthly journal and a free T-shirt, Kamel said. A perk The ALot was buzzing about was the promised 12-pack of pop for every team.

“Without caffeine, this competition would not be doable. If you’re too caffeinated to stand, that’s the best time to start coding,” Evert said as he mimicked holding shaky hands above a keyboard, then lowering until his finger whipped across the keys.

The team was a little perturbed to find only a six-pack of pop waiting for them on competition day, two of which were non-caffeinated.

Yet, the eight teams at NDSU survived the five-hour competition. The last 10 minutes consisted of furious typing, head-scratching, and a few congratulatory high-fives upon completion. When the competition was over, the teams waited and watched the continually updating display boards as the judges tallied last-minute submission scores.

Of Concordia’s three registered teams, “The ALot” placed fourth at the site, “The Shadow Proclamation” placed third, and “I Like Turtles,” who didn’t actually show up for the competition, tied for sixth place. None of the teams at the NDSU site placed among the top three in the region to move on to the world finals, but the consensus from “The ALot” was that it was an enjoyable, worthwhile competition, and all three students said they would do it again.

“It’s a blast to be forced to think on your toes for a day.  It truly is a brain workout when you’re at a programming competition.  The problem solving that is done in such a short amount of time is remarkable,” Evert said.

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