Computer science team places fourth in competition

Butler computer science students placed fourth out of 28 teams at the Carnegie Mellon Spring Programming competition in Pittsburgh March 25 and 26.

“The most remarkable thing about Butler’s teams is that unlike many other teams that compete, we do not practice or prepare at all before going,”Ankur Gupta, the team’s faculty coach, said. “Our performance is a reflection of just how much our students learn in their classes.”

Gupta said the contest pits teams of three students against eight or more complex, real-world problems with a grueling five-hour deadline.

The competition is fierce and competitors need to have a sense of time management, since each incorrect solution is assessed as a time penalty.

“You don’t want to waste your customer’s time when you are dealing with the supreme court of computing,” Gupta said. “The team that solves the most problems in the fewest attempts in the least cumulative time is declared the winner.”

Ben Patterson, a freshman computer science and computer engineering major, said this was his first programming competition. He was unsure of what to expect.

“My two teammates and I spoke about strategy on tackling the programs before the competition so that we could be as quick and as efficient as possible,” he said.

Patterson said the problems ranged from rather easy freshman-level programming problems to extremely difficult senior-level problems.

“Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds and build software systems that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges, Gupta said.

“For a well-versed computer science student, some of the problems require precision only,” he said. “Others require a knowledge and understanding of advanced algorithms.

“Still others are simply too hard to solve, except, of course, for the world’s brightest problem-solvers.”

Gupta explained that judging at the competition is very strict.

“The students are given a problem statement, not a requirements document,” Gupta said. “They are given an example of test data, but they do not have access to the judges’ test data and acceptance criteria.”

Gupta said the team generally competes in contests at least once a year.

Last year, the team placed fifth.

The team beat one of the University of Pittsburgh teams at the competition, and the day before the final, there was a “practice contest,” in which Butler placed second over both Pittsburgh teams.

This competition helps computer science students learn by being able to apply it to real-world problems.

“As a freshman with little programming experience, this competition was a great way to see programming done at a high level,” Patterson said. “My help was limited when it came to the harder problems due to my lack of experience, but it was a great learning experience.

“I look forward to more programming competitions in the future.”

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