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Carnegie Mellon Dragons Take On the World In International Programming Competition

Byron SpiceThursday, March 31, 2005

PITTSBURGH-A team of Carnegie Mellon University computer science students will compete with more than 200 of the world's "best and brightest" programmers at the IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest World Finals April 3-7, in Shanghai, China. Freshman Evan Danaher and sophomores Thomas Quisel and Glenn Willen-better known as the Carnegie Mellon Dragons-will take on 77 other teams from around the world in their bid to bring the trophy and the bragging rights that go with it back to the United States for the first time since 1997.

Begun in 1970 at Texas A&M University, the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICDC) has expanded into a global competition headquartered at Baylor University that involves tens of thousands of students and faculty from universities in 75 countries. Organizers call this "battle of the brains" the oldest, largest and most prestigious programming contest in the world.

More than 4,000 teams representing 1,582 universities began the quest for the World Finals in different regional competitions across the globe this past fall. The Carnegie Mellon Dragons earned a berth to the World Finals, which will be held at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, by placing in the top three schools at a competition at Carnegie Mellon in November.

"This is the world's premier university competition in the computing sciences and engineering," said Bill Poucher, ICPC executive director and Baylor professor. "IBM, ACM and the world's universities have partnered to offer the best and brightest students the opportunity to challenge themselves to achieve far beyond classroom expectations so that they can build the cutting-edge technology of tomorrow."

Designed to foster creativity, teamwork and innovation in building new software programs, the contest challenges teams to solve a series of complex, real-world problems-equal to a semester's worth of computer programming curriculum-on one computer in just five hours. Under the eye of expert judges, they rank the difficulty of the problem, determine the requirements, design test beds and build software systems that solve the problem.

"There are really three subproblems you have to solve for each problem in the contest," Willen said. "First, taking the description and figuring out what they're asking you for mathematically-what real problem they want you to solve. Once you know that, you have to come up with a mathematical or computer algorithm to solve it. The third part is to actually write a program that implements it correctly. With any luck, it works the first time and doesn't have bugs."

Students do not have a copy of the judges' test data and acceptance criteria, and the team receives a time penalty for any incorrect solutions. In the end, the team that solves the most problems in the least time wins.

"We try to stay focused on doing the best job we can do," said Greg Kesden, a lecturer in computer science who co-coaches the team with School of Computer Science Systems Scientist Eugene Fink. "At the end, we like to know how we stacked up. But our big focus is to be the best we can." Despite their relative youth compared to the upperclassmen and graduate students they'll face in China, Kesden is optimistic about the Dragons' chances.

"They are an absolutely outstanding team; they will do very, very well," Kesden said. "Some other teams might get ahead of them, but only from more experience. Our team is very young. ... A couple more years and they will be unstoppable."

For more in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, visit

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Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |