Programmers to Compete in Calif.

After claiming first place at a regional competition in November, a team of three Cornell computer programming students will make their way to Beverly Hills, California next week to compete against the world’s best.

The contest will be held from March 22-25. So, while Hollywood’s elite vie for Oscars, nearby programmers will compete for their share of prizes ranging from computers to cash prizes of $10,000.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest has pitted the best college programmers against each other since its inception 30 years ago. This year, Cornell’s team will compete against 69 other groups from around the world that have advanced from an original pool of 3,850 teams from 68 countries.

The contest requires the team to solve eight or more computer science problems in the space of five hours all the while working together at a single computer terminal.

“The biggest challenge, aside from other teams, will probably be working together effectively with one computer,” said team coach Martin Pal, grad.

The problems themselves promise to pose no simple challenge. According to a press release from the ACM, solving all the questions will be equivalent to “completing a semester’s worth of computer programming in one afternoon.”

“The team is looking good this year. We placed in the middle of the pack last year and it looks like we will do better this time,” said contestant Michael Connor ’04.

The other two members of Cornell’s team, the Big Red, are Lars Backstrom ’04 and Will Barksdale ’05.

“Two of the contestants this year went to the finals last year, so I think they will do much better this year,” said Pal, who was a contestant himself two years ago.

The team is not relying solely on this advantage, however.

“We’ve been having practices at least once a week. We usually go over problems from old contests and hold mock contests where the students compete against the coaches,” said another team coach Hubert Chen, grad.

IBM has been the chief sponsor of the contest since 1997. Since that time, participation has quadrupled to 23,000 undergraduate programmers.

“The team has been working really hard and we are happy to have gotten this far,” Chen said.

Archived article by Philip Lane