February 16, 2004

Programming Team Competes Globally

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Between March 28 and April 1, the IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest will gather the 73 teams who advanced from the regional competition to compete in the annual 2004 World Finals in Prague, Czech Republic. Cornell’s ACM team is one of 25 North American teams who will be competing in the finals.

Global Competition

Teams of three students from universities all over the globe will face a set of approximately eight programming challenges to be completed in the shortest amount of time possible. The teams will attempt to solve the most problems they can, aiming to capture the title of international champions.

Competitors will use a single personal computer provided by IBM to design test programs and build systems that will solve the problems in the shortest amount of time. The questions will test the students’ programming skills, teamwork and creativity.


The Cornell team, made up of Alex Harn ’07, Bill Barksdale ’05 and Xin Qi ’05, will travel to the ACM-ICPC to complete nearly one semester’s worth of computer programming in one five-hour sitting.

Alex Harn, the newest member of the team, has been programming for the past seven years, competing in computer programming contests on a variety of levels.

“The competition is going to be tough,” Harn said. The team has put together an intense practice schedule for the next few weeks.

“We practice by essentially simulating the problems that could potentially be similar to the ones we’ll face in Prague,” Harn said.

Hubie Chen, the Cornell ACM coach, will be traveling with his three students to the finals this March. Chen said that the Cornell team did extremely well in the regional competition and is excited to compete against the rest of the programming world. The last time a United States team won the World Finals was in 1997.

“[The ACM-ICPC] is extremely similar to the regional competition with same format in the same time and the same scoring,” Chen said.

The team has been practicing once or twice per week for blocks of four to five hours each time.

“When we practice the simulated contests, the whole team sits down and works out the problems together,” Chen said, “There will be no changes in the way we are practicing for the World Finals. We were doing well in the contest in the beginning, so we will use the same training methods again.”

Chen stated that the Cornell team will be using a hybrid of computer languages, such as C++, Java and Pascal programming packages.

“I am looking forward to the competition. We are all hoping for the best,” Chen said.

IBM’s sponsorship of the ACM-ICPC has caused worldwide participation to quadruple. Gabby Silberman, program director of IBM Centers for Advanced Studies, serves as the executive sponsor for the competition.

“IBM provides the systems and infrastructure for the competition. We try to facilitate the growth of the contest to bring more attention onto information technology-related professions,” Silberman said.

This is IBM’s seventh year as the sponsor of the World Finals.

“The objectives of the competition are that it gives students the opportunity to show off their talent, to shine a spotlight on the bright talent that is out there at the universities and to expose the technology leaders of the future,” Silberman said.

Silberman also said that the contest creates a sense of community with like-minded individuals that have common objectives, giving IBM a glimpse into the future of computer programming technology.

IBM’s commitment has fueled the growth of the contest to tens of thousands of students. Silberman explained that IBM is constantly looking for new programmers to someday work for the company.

“We are always looking for top talent but most of the students are not graduating yet. We try to offer some of the brightest students internship opportunities and summer jobs with the hopes that someday they will consider working for us,” Silberman said.

The winners of the ACM-ICPC will bring home the “the world’s smartest trophy.”

“This year, the top winners will also receive IBM Thinkpads, new software, scholarship money and other goodies,” Silberman said. “Cornell did very well in the regional competition. I am interested to see how they do in the World Finals.”

Archived article by Allison Markowitz