University students prep for programming championship

Daytona Beach is a hot spring break destination for many university students, but for some Canadians Honolulu is the place to be.

It won’t be a vacation, however, for students from Saint Mary’s University (SMU), Queen’s University, University of Calgary, University of Toronto, and University of Waterloo (UW). The schools will all be participating in the 26th annual ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest World Finals on March 20-24. Sponsored by IBM, the event will host 64 teams from 27 countries.


The three-person teams have five hours to complete a series of problems using a variety of programming languages including Java, Pascal and C++. Winners will leave the Aloha state with more than jet lag. Prizes include IMB ThinkPads, software, scholarships and a trophy.

Associate math and computing science professor at SMU Pawan Lingras says his team is aiming to get back to Halifax with more than a tan. The team is riding high for a number reasons. One, it has qualified for the regional championship four years running. Two, it placed second only to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and ahead of Harvard University and Brown University. Three, it is the first team from the Atlantic provinces to qualify for the world championships.

“”Just like everybody else we are aiming for the medals, which is top 10, but we seriously think that we can do it,”” Lingras says.

Regardless of the outcome, he says it has been a confidence and intellect building exercice.

“”It’s something that we want to provide as an additional learning component to our program,”” Lingras says. “”When we saw the teams from other universities face-to-face–like MIT–the first time we saw them we said, ‘On a good day we could take them.'””

Queen’s qualified after finishing second to perennial powerhouse UW at the ACM East Central North America Programming Contest ahead of Carnegie Mellon University in November. Thomas Tang is the Queen’s coach and a graduate student in computing and information science at the Kingston, Ont. school. He is quietly confident his team is up to the task, but notes this is the first time it has qualified for the worlds. If the team doesn’t live up to expectations it won’t be from a lack of effort. He says they have been practicing between 10 and 15 hours a week since September.

“”This is our first time, so we don’t know yet, but we hope we can do well,”” Tang says.

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