Computer programming group off to Russia

The recent winners of a spot in a prestigious international computer science and mathematics challenge competition are going to have to brush up on their Russian – and quickly.

A team of University of Lethbridge computer science and physics students, coached by Dr. Howard Cheng, placed second of 49 teams from western Canada and the northwestern United States at the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) Rocky Mountain competition at the end of October.

The team's success landed three members (Hugh Ramp, Chris Martin and Darcy Best) of the U of L group on the elite roster of competitors at the ICPC World Finals to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 30 to July 4, 2013. It is the first time the U of L has qualified students for the world finals.

Math Russia
Front row (l to r) Hugh Ramp, fourth-year physics, Dr. Howard Cheng, team coach; Back row (l to r) Chris Martin, third-year computer science, Darcy Best, second-year mathematics.

"The team also won a warm-up event two weeks before the regional contest (the Alberta Collegiate Programming Contest) where we took the top spot in the province, and the students have put in a tremendous amount of training into this effort," says Cheng.

The events leading up to, and including, the St. Petersburg events are a gruelling series of problem-solving boot camps, competitions and drills designed to enhance the students' ability to work as a team under relentless pressure, the watchful eyes of the world's best judges and extremely strict working conditions.

"They trained for hours on weekends as well as a few evenings just before the regional contest. This is in addition to the years of practices they have had, including taking a course (CPSC 3200) that teaches many of the topics they had to know for this contest. Top IT employers such as IBM and Google value these contests and commonly test applicants with programming contest puzzles during interviews, so there is definitely a career-related aspect to knowing how these types of puzzles work."

St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO) hosts the ICPC World Finals. Only 115 of the top teams in the world make it to the final competition.

"This is an outstanding achievement for our students and their coaching and mentoring group," says Dr. Chris Nicol, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. "Howard has done an excellent job of building up the team's strength and developing its real-world experience in mathematics and computer science through these competitions. They have been consistently successful at regional competitions, and that success is now paying off. We wish them well in their future efforts at the world finals in Russia this summer."

At the ACM Rocky Mountain Regional Contest at the University of Alberta in October, U of L teams placed second, 12th, 28th, and 34th of 49 groups.

The full U of L contingent features: Darcy Best, Chris Martin, Hugh Ramp, Rio Lowry, Chris Thomas, Kim Wikkerink, Mark Hunter, Ian Stewart, Fei Wang, Camara Lerner, Jason Racine and Vince Weiler.

This story first appeared in the December 2012 issue of the Legend. For a look at the entire issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.