​Cracking the code: Kiwi students head to programming regionals

A team of three Massey University computer science students are to compete in one of the world’s foremost computer programming competitions.

From left; Samuel Hunt, Samuel Dobson and Felix Brookie

From left; Samuel Hunt, Samuel Dobson and Felix Brookie

A team of three Massey University computer science students are on their way to Auckland at the end of the month, to compete in one of the world’s foremost computer programming competitions.

Felix Brookie, Samuel Dobson and Samuel Hunt have qualified to compete in the South Pacific regional event of the Association of Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, after facing off against teams from Fiji and New Zealand in the divisional round.

The trio are are one of twelve groups from universities around the South Pacific competing in the regionals with the contest pitting the best problem solvers, computer scientists and engineers against one another in a five-hour battle to solve as many computer-based real-world problems as possible.

Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds, and build software systems to solve the problems.

Those problems range from requiring simple programming knowledge, to needing advanced problem solving skills and having the ability to write advanced algorithms.

The team’s mentor, Dr Henning Koehler, says the competition is as much about strategy as it is about programming skills.

“The team needs to be able to co-ordinate,” Koehler, adds. “One of the things they do is get one person working on a simple problem while the others design a general algorithm for the complex problems.

“It’s a difficult competition though. You can submit a program, but if it’s wrong you only get told whether it passes or fails, not what aspect of it is wrong. That’s part of the problem solving.”

Team member Brookie says the competition “fascinated him” because it is not something he would get to do normally.

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“It’s an interesting experience to actually sit at a computer together and try and get something down,” he says. “It’s not the same as doing it on your own, in your own time.”

Hunt agreed, saying the most difficult part of the competition was the lack of time.

“It’s a very different pressure that you’re being put under,” he adds. “Luckily for us we did some mock competitions beforehand so it wasn’t too much of a shock. It’s a bit more stressful but it’s a good skill and a good experience.”

Dobson, who is still attending secondary school as well as taking university papers, says preparation is key, but sometimes it comes down to trial and error as well.

“You have to try and map the problems to a model of something you know and then hope that it works,” he adds.

Brookie says they are looking forward to one thing at the regionals: “winning”.

The Regional Final will take place in Auckland September 25 to 27. The winning two teams will then go on to compete in the world finals in Phuket, Thailand, next May - the contest is sponsored by computer company IBM.

The Association of Computing Machinery is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, delivering resources that advance computing as a science and a profession.

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