ICPC Finalists Solve Real-World Business Challenges

The coach for Warsaw University, the first place team in this year's ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), reported that his charges received a variety of promising scientific and business offers from organizations in Poland as well as abroad. In a brief survey of team coaches for selected top finishers in this year's ICPC, Jan Madey noted that members of Warsaw's teams, which have advanced to the ICPC finals every years since 1994, had "no problem" in finding interesting jobs in Poland. He added that "the door is open" for them almost anywhere in the world should they want to go abroad for employment.

World Champions - Warsaw University (click on picture to enlarge)


Similar responses were reported by coaches for two U.S. universities that finished among the leaders in the ICPC World Finals, which took place in Tokyo in March. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the third place finisher, team members were weighing opportunities for graduate school, software development, finance, and professorships. At the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas), which finished among the top 15 finalists, one team member has been accepted at Harvard Law School, another is pursuing a Ph.D in computer science, and a third is a Masters Degree candidate at UT Dallas.

Third Place - Massachusetts Institute of Technology (click on picture to enlarge)

These varied career options reflect the critical role for computing professionals in today's technology-driven world. In fact, the contest itself challenges students to solve computer programming problems modeled on real-world business situations. Each three-person team is asked to solve 10 practical problems, such as improving the efficiency of telecommunications networks, and minimizing risks to the security of proprietary data.

Eighty eight teams competed at the World Finals following regional contests on six continents. They were among more than six thousand teams representing 1,756 universities in 82 countries that participated in this year's competition. The event, sponsored by IBM since 1997, has been an important component of ACM's educational activities since 1977.

Early Preparation is Critical for Success

These winning teams surveyed also cited early preparation for competitive computing opportunities as an important factor in their success. MIT said that many of its team members are talented programmers with prior high school experience in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). Warsaw University said it attracts students who have competed in national and international school contests in mathematics and informatics. Tsinghua University cited training for the IOI as well as the National Olympiads in Informatics as important pre-college programs for their team members.

Second Place - Tsinghua University (click on picture to enlarge)

Some differences in funding of computer science education programs as well as basic and applied research appeared in the surveyed teams in North America as compared to teams in Eastern Europe and Asia. Ivor Page of UT Dallas noted that while the US remains a leader in professional computer science societies, as well as top publishing journals and quality research, government funding for the field continues to diminish. Xioajun Wu of Tsinghua University, however, said China has made computer science a priority as a source of funds for education and research. Warsaw's Madey said that while his school's victories at ICPC as well as other IT contests have been noticed by government, industrial and education officials, that publicity does not translate to higher financial priority in the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

As for how effectively the technology community communicates its need for talented people to pursue computing careers, the pattern was also mixed. Page of UT Dallas cited a recent governor's commission in Texas, which called for a doubling of graduation numbers in science, math, and engineering. He said that industry leaders have reinforced this message as a means of effectively competing in world markets. Madey at Warsaw pointed to the opening of R&D centers in Poland by both Polish companies and leading multinationals like Google, IBM and Microsoft as evidence of the technology community's interest in developing talented students locally. Martin Rinard of MIT reported room for improvement in communications from the technology community about their need for talent; and Xiaojun Wu of Tsinghua reported very little communication in China on this need from his perspective.

On the other hand, there was unanimity on the need for extensive practice as critical factors in the success of all these teams. And all the coaches surveyed agreed that a healthy breakfast of yogurt, fruits, granola, and eggs, all available at the buffet provided by the ICPC hosts, provided an important start to the day.