UC Berkeley programmers to compete in worldwide competition

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For the first time in five years, a team of UC Berkeley programmers will head to Russia this summer to compete against some of the world’s best collegiate coders at an international programming contest.

After winning the Pacific Northwest Regional Contest last month, UC Berkeley students Lewin Gan, Biye Jiang and Yan Duan automatically qualified for the world finals, which will be held at Ural Federal University of Ekaterinburg, Russia, in June.

The Association for Computing and Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, also known as ACM-ICPC, is sponsored by IBM and has students solve problems concerning a certain theme — this year’s participants will tackle problems relating to cloud computing. Chas Kurtz, an IBM representative, said ACM-ICPC aims to give students real-life problems to solve while preparing them for careers in the industry.

“(The competition) gives students an edge when going on to graduate school or pursuing their first job out of college,” Kurtz said. “We’re preparing the next generation of computer science graduates to help them transition to business and technology futures.”

Teams solve as many of the 13 proposed problems as they can in five hours. According to the UC Berkeley team coach, associate professor Paul Hilfinger of the electrical engineering and computer sciences department, the competition is designed to incorporate a semester’s worth of programming.

Hilfinger said he would not be surprised if they did well in the world finals based on the team’s performance in the regional competition and its amount of preparation. The last time a UC Berkeley team qualified for the world finals was in 2009; in 1996, UC Berkeley representatives won the international competition, according to Hilfinger.

“The thing is that in any competition, there are many things that can go wrong, so one has to hope that you don’t get hung up on a single problem,” Hilfinger said. “We are definitely focused on doing well.”

In this particular competition, only one student programs while the other two team members draft solutions. Due to the nature of the competition, speed and accuracy are crucial to gain points.

The UC Berkeley team completed 10 problems within the five-hour limit at the regional contest. Gan, the lead programmer for the UC Berkeley team and a third-year EECS major, said the victory was largely due to strategically choosing problems that could be solved more quickly. The students beat 112 other teams at the regional contest, including two from Stanford University.

“Stanford has really fast coders on their teams, so we were lagging behind them for the first 2 to 3 hours,” Gan said in an email. “But, we managed to solve some of the tougher problems that shot us up in the leader board that Stanford was not able to get.”

At the finals, the top 120 teams will compete in a similarly formatted competition. In the past five years, teams from Russian and Chinese universities won the competition.

But the UC Berkeley team is less focused on winning the competition than putting its best performance forward.

“This is my first time travelling to Europe or Russia, so I’m pretty excited,” Gan said in an email. “I’m not going to worry too much about the actual competition, and we will try to do the best we can.”

Jose Hernandez covers campus life. Contact him at [email protected]