By Elizabeth Howell
Three Carleton Computer Science students brought the university to its best-ever finish in the Eastern Central North America regional semi-final for the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, which brings elite computer programming teams from universities and colleges around the world to solve difficult problems.
In a tough region filled with universities known for their computer science programs, Carleton placed fourth among Canadian teams and 17th overall. The students attribute it to not only their teamwork, but also to a directed study course some members took at Carleton to solve programming challenges created by Stony Brook University.
“I think as a team we performed quite well. We had a bit more of a strategy going into it than we had in past years,” said Matt Diener, who participated in ACM for the third time along with teammate Alan Wu. Third team member Olivia Perryman was in her first year at ACM.
The students have been practicing solving problems since the beginning of the term. At competition time on Oct. 29 in Windsor, Wu set their only computer up while Perryman and Diener both examined the 10 problems they needed to solve in five hours. They finished five problems successfully, another Carleton record.
Carleton Computer Science Students Exceed Their Own Expectations
“We wanted to get three problems, and if we were lucky, get four. We exceeded our own expectations,” Wu said.
The problems are typical of what are asked in job interviews for elite companies such as Facebook or Google. One of them, Perryman recalled, had to do with translating a book in English into multiple different languages. “You are given which languages you want to translate to, and a list of translators and costs, and you need to figure out the cheapest cost to translate your book into all languages.”
Professor Tony White has been coaching ACM teams since 2008. He usually identifies top-performing students in a Carleton computer science individual competition called CodeGuru, and encourages them to be part of the ACM team. The students had to give up a lot of weekends to get the work done, and he says their hard work was worth it.
With Diener in his last year at Carleton, at least one member of the team will need to be replaced next year. “I hope the CodeGuru competition at the end of March 2017 will help find another leading light, so we can move us towards solving six problems – or into the top 10 of the competition,” White said.