UC Irvine, after earning a bronze medal at the North American Championship of the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), now qualifies for the World Finals in Egypt this November. ICPC, the oldest and largest programming contest, describes the competition as follows: “Each year, an elite group of the brightest collegiate problem solvers on the planet comes together to compete [at] the ICPC World Finals.” This year, that elite group will include three students from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS):
- computer science freshman Elijah Huang,
- computer science junior Jerry Li, and
- computer science and math (double major) sophomore Thomas Neill.
“When the results of each teams’ final submissions were revealed and it became clear that we were bronze medalists, it was incredibly exciting,” says Neill. “It was rewarding to see our hard work preparing pay off and to proudly represent UCI with a solid result.”
The North American Championship
The students are thrilled to continue their ICPC journey, which started back in February at the Southern California Regional competition and took them all the way to Orlando, Florida, in May for the North American Championship.
“Honestly, our goal was just to qualify for the World Finals, which is top 18,” says Huang. The team exceeded its own expectations with its sixth-place, bronze-medal finish.
“Being able to not only qualify for World Finals but also get a bronze medal was beyond surprising for me,” admits Li. “We were extremely happy when we found out how well we did.”
The students credit effective teamwork for their success. “A lot of what I learned was about teamwork and how effectively working together allows the team to achieve things that one single person would not have been able to,” says Li. They took a “divide and conquer” approach for the easier problems and collaborated on the more difficult ones.
“One strategy was effectively delegating problems based on our relative strengths: implementation for Thomas, graphs for Jerry, and math for me,” says Huang. This helped the team save time, which gave them the edge in tiebreakers between teams that had solved the same number of problems.
“Competing at NAC was a great experience!” says Neill. “It was amazing to meet some of the best problem solvers in North America, to learn some new algorithmic tricks at the programming camp, and, of course, to participate in the next stage of the ICPC.”
Prepping for the World Finals
ICPC training at UCI is typically run through the ACM@UCI student club, where Li serves as president and Neill is internal vice president. Prepping for World Finals while school is out is a new undertaking.
“For the summer, since we are going to all be separated geographically, we plan on practicing individually, honing each of our skills,” says Li. “Then, when school starts back up in the fall, we plan on doing many team contests to make sure that [our] teamwork and flow stays strong and takes advantage of how we might have improved over the summer.”
For his part, while further advancing his problem-solving skills, Neill hopes to reach the ‘Grandmaster’ level on the popular competitive programming site Codeforces before reuniting with the team to prepare for the November competition. “I’m looking forward to practicing the harder and more interesting problems for the World Finals alongside the team in the fall.”
Then, with funding support from ICS, these three UCI anteaters will be off to Egypt in November to show off their elite programming skills!
— Shani Murray