The student world championship in programming in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. Source: Press photo
Three students, one computer, and a set of 12 extremely complicated mathematical problems related to the key trends in the IT industry - cognitive computing and the IBM Watson supercomputer. And only five hours to solve all of them.
The next generation of the world's programming elite – over 1,000 students from universities in 41 countries – gathered in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg from June 23-25 for one of the most important and prestigious events for the global IT community: the 38th Annual World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC), unofficially referred to as “Battle of the Brains”.
“The world programming championship is held in order to raise increasingly more sophisticated generations of programmers who will be able to solve technical problems at a higher level,” said Dr. Bill Poucher, executive director of the competition, pointing out that Russian ICPC winners from previous years have become developers for Russian social network VKontakte, search engine giant Yandex, and internet services firm Mail.ru.
The participants had to process huge amounts of data. A workable program written in one of the accessible programming languages that successfully passed a number of jury tests was considered to be a successful solution to the problem. Teams that were able to solve the greatest number of problems in the shortest amount of time were among the 12 medalists.
St. Petersburg steals Moscow’s thunder
When there were just a few minutes left before the end of the competition, experts in the stands began to lament the fact that some teams would not be able to post a result at all, fearing that the committee had overdone it in terms of difficulty.
The Tsinghua University team (China) was the first to solve a problem. The IT trio from Moscow State University was in the lead until the very last moment, when students from St. Petersburg State University stole first place. During the last hour, the team from Russia’s second city solved a total of three problems, which put them level with the Muscovites - but they ended up beating their rivals by posting the best score.
Overall, St. Petersburg students Dmitry Yegorov, Pavel Kunyavsky, and Yegor Suvorov solved seven out of the 12 problems. They were awarded a trophy called The World's Smartest Trophy, which features the names of contest winners from previous years.
Generous recognition for the winners
Along with the world champions, 11 other teams from Russia, China, Poland, and Croatia were recognized as winners. Gold medals were awarded to the teams that placed first through fourth, silver medals to the teams that placed fifth through eighth, and bronze medals went to the teams that placed ninth through 12th. The winning team received the cup and $12,000. The three other teams that were awarded gold medals received $6,000 each. The silver medalists got $3,000 per team, and the bronze medalists were given $1,500 per team.
The winners and finalists will also receive internships or job offers at prestigious domestic and international companies in the IT industry. In the past there have even been cases in which the finalists were able to establish their own successful companies.
“We think that these students are the future leaders of our industry and want to make a contribution to their development and preparation for future work. We hope that the winners will help us build a truly reasonable planet,” said head of the IBM Software Group Technical Strategy Alain Azagury.
Mikhail Rubinchik, the coach of the Ural Federal University team, told RBTH that preparation for competitions at this level “takes five to seven years and makes it possible to make huge breakthroughs in the development of algorithmic thinking skills.”
His team trains for five hours once or twice a week, and for five hours five times a week before big competitions. Each team member has a specific strictly assigned role. One person is the mathematician who thinks of the solution, and the other two are programmers who write the code for the program.
“The computer is the most valuable resource for the team, so it's best to not think while staring at the screen and plan the solution ahead of time instead,” Rubinchik explains.
Partners or competitors?
“It's difficult to say who we consider to be our main rival,” the University of Central Florida team coach Arup Guhatold RBTH, adding that there were many strong teams from different countries that his team knew nothing about. “At the training camp in Petrazavodsk, our main competitor was the University of Wrocław team (Poland),” he said. “Every day they were trading off between first and second place, and during the last week they were always competing with each other and always placed next to each other on the scoreboard.
“We also think very highly of the Russian programmers, especially of the team from St. Petersburg University [of Information Technologies], who we also trained with at the camp and who have won the world championship five times over the past ten years.”
A contest with pedigree
A total of 40,000 people from 2,500 universities from all over the world take part in this prestigious championship every year. Only a small percentage of them make it to the final round.
The first team programming contest under the auspices of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was held at the University of Texas in 1970. The competition has been held on an international scale since 1990, and has previously been hosted by various cities in the U.S., as well as the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Harbin, Tokyo, Prague, Stockholm, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg.
In terms of total medal count, Russia, China, the U.S., and Poland are in the lead. Russian programmers have been participating in the championship since 1998 and have placed first eight times since then. The St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics, and Optics holds the record for the most titles won by any university, winning the championship five times to date.
Results chart: http://icpc.baylor.edu/scoreboard/
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