Computer Programming team out-skills competition

The Utes have already defeated the Cougars.

Although fans were not lined up weeks in advance to buy tickets to the big match, three U students under the title “Utah Red” handed BYU a convincing defeat in the Rocky Mountain Regional Computer Programming Contest.

U students Usit Duongsaa, Huy Tuan Vo and Solomon Boulos finished first among Utah teams at the Oct. 30 competition by solving eight programming problems in an afternoon.

“They call it algorithmic problems,” said Duongsaa, a three-time team-member.

The team was given eight problem descriptions that involved mathematics, and then were required to figure a strategy to solve it.

“We create a computer program that can automatically solve it,” Duongsaa said. “We don’t really solve it by hand, we understand the problem and create a computer program that solves it.”

Prior to competition, the team participated in a class taught by professors Emil Praun and Claudio Silva, which was targeted to improve their problem-solving skills. The coaches also worked with the students in other preparations for the contest.

“I would like to stress that the high ranking in the competition is mostly a demonstration of the outstanding students we have at the U,” Silva said. “In my view, no amount of preparation can create students of the caliber of Solomon, Usit and Huy.”

Being a part of the team does take some time away from schoolwork because members have to divert time toward practice, but participants said that experience actually helped them apply what they learned in the classroom.

“It does help indirectly,” Duongsaa said. “It’s not going to help-say on midterm exams or anything, but it’s being able to understand the problem and come up with ideas quickly.”

Vo agreed.

“It was kind of challenging [to balance]. We have a class where we talk about programming challenges. It’s a one-credit class, but I think it helped me for the future because I plan to go into this.”

In addition to winning the Utah sub-region, Utah Red finished third among the 63 teams in the Rocky Mountain Region.

The U students finished just two places out of the Rocky Mountain Region Championship, which would have qualified them for a trip to the World Finals.

However, Utah Red has shown signs of improvement over the past two years, moving from fifth to first in the Utah sub-region in a single year. If they continue to improve, participants are confident the future may yield an even more positive result.

Duongsaa said the team needs more participants to continue improving. He added that this year’s student population was fairly interested in the team, but in his last year of competition, 2002, they had trouble even fielding a team as only four people showed up. “It would be good if we can get more people to be interested and participate,” he said. “We need to field three or four teams. It would be great if more people would participate because we certainly have a lot of good computer science students that could participate.”

Duongsaa continued.

“It’s time well-spent, it’s relatively little time and it’s very fun to participate in this kind of intensive competition,” he said. “It helps keep me on my feet so I can remember the things I’ve learned and compete against other people. I find it a good way to put out what we learned on a test.”

The annual contest is sponsored by IBM and considered the world’s most prestigious computer competition. It attracts 3,000 teams of collegiate programmers from 70 countries to go head-to-head in the culminating event-the World Finals in Shanghai, China.

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