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Five student programing teams compete at regional contest

By Tina Ou     11/11/10 6:00pm

Where better to find students spending hours in front of the computer coding solutions for programming problems while competing against the clock and other students than at the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest? On Oct. 29-30, five Rice teams, consisting of three students each, competed against teams from other colleges such as the University of Texas at Austin, Baylor University, the University of Tulsa, Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University in the 2010 ACM-ICPC - more commonly known as "Battle of the Brains" - South Central USA Regional Scripting Contest. The team "Give a Hoot!" - Lovett College freshman Ryan Dewey, Lovett sophomore Eric Lee and Wiess College freshman Olyver Yau - placed the highest out of all the Rice teams, winning fourth place out of 69 teams.

"We gave it the best we had," Dewey said. "We got seven out of eight questions right, and for two freshmen and a sophomore, that's really good."

Computer Science Lecturer John Greiner, who acted as sponsor and coach for all of the teams, said this year, Rice was able to send more teams than usual because the Computer Science Department was willing to pay $1600 for all Rice teams to participate in order to foster more interest in the Rice computer science program. He said he was pleased with the performance of all the Rice teams and especially with that of "Give a Hoot!" The next highest-placing Rice team was 12th.

Dewey said he chose to compete because he had competed in many programming contests in high school and is considering a programmingrelated career. Compared to his experience with high school contests, Dewey said the ACM-ICPC was more difficult, and there were fewer questions than at the high school level because students were expected to need more time to solve each problem.

"The most important aspect of [programming] is problem solving," Dewey said. "It's not hard to write the algorithm to solve the problem, but coming up with the algorithm in the first place is the hard part."

Teams from colleges in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana participated in the regional contest. Each team was given a set of eight programming problems to solve within five hours, and the teams submitted their solutions to an online server. In order to compete, teams had to go to specific competition locations - Rice teams competed at Baylor University.

Greiner said Rice has sent teams to the regional competition every year since 1980, except for 1999-2002. Teams from Rice have also made it to the World Finals, which is the next competing level teams advance to after the regional competition. Greiner said the last time a Rice team went to the world competition was in 2006, and he would like to see Rice teams win the regional contest and advance to the world level in the future.

Greiner hopes there will be increased interest at Rice in ACM-ICPC and recommends this contest to anyone with a background in programming, especially students with knowledge of algorithms and math and an interest in competing with other students. He said he looks forward to following the progress of returning contestants.

"The key to doing well at the competition is a mixture of knowledge on the theoretical side - understanding algorithm and math - and knowledge on the practical side: knowing how to write and debug code quickly," Greiner said.

Dewey, Lee and Yau all said they want to compete at the contest again. Lee said he had both high and low expectations of the competition but definitely wants to compete next year.

"The competition was all about solving a finite number of questions, so [that] eliminated the sense of uncertainty in terms of how much you have to go beyond," Lee said. "Of course, there are still time constraints and a couple of diabolical questions that always appear in this level of competition, but my teammates were very skilled and had solid background in programming competition. We gave it our best effort, learned a good lesson and came back to Rice motivated."

Yau said his experience has inspired him to practice more for next year's competition.

"I like the satisfaction of coding the solution to a problem," Yau said. "You have a task to do, and you make something up out of letters, and it works.

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