Northwestern’s computer programming team traded this brutally cold Iowa weather for a week in the equally cold city of Harbin, China, as part of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest world finals. The team competed Feb. 1-6 and received an honorable mention.
Seniors John Calsbeek, a computer science major and Curt Van Wyk, a mathematics teaching and computer science major, along with junior Mark Haselhoff, a computer science and mathematics major, traveled across the Pacific to compete alongside 103 other teams from across the globe.
NW was among 21 U.S. colleges and universities represented at this stage of competition. Only thirteen of them, schools like Duke, MIT and Stanford, joined NW in returning to the world finals for the second consecutive year.
“It was amazing to be at the competition again, surrounded by universities with way bigger computer science departments than ours,” Calsbeek said. “There are not many computer programming contests in the world, so to qualify for the world finals twice is quite an honor.”
The contest is a test of the team’s algorithmic problem-solving abilities. Each team is given five hours to write computer programs that are capable of solving specific problems that they have not seen beforehand. Each team is given 11 problems to solve. The winner is the team to complete the most problems with 100 percent accuracy.
“Each problem presented a situation and a problem that needed to be solved in that situation. The objective was to write a program that would solve the specific problem,” Calsbeek said. Although the NW team did not solve any problems with 100 percent accuracy, they still enjoyed their time in China.
“My favorite part of the competition was trying to figure out as fast as possible which was the easiest problem, then writing a program that can solve that problem as fast as possible,” Calsbeek said.
While the team was focused primarily on the competition at hand, they had time to explore the sites China had to offer. On their first day in Harbin, the team members were on their own, so they tried to find a local restaurant. The guys were successful; however, none of the staff at the restaurant they found spoke English. Luckily, one of the patrons there at the time had some experience speaking English, so they managed to place an order after all.
Another memorable experience the team is not likely to forget was the chance to visit all the snow and ice sculptures that Harbin shows off this time of year. “It is amazing what you can do with snow and patience,” Calsbeek said.
The team appreciates the opportunity they had in China. Calsbeek said, “It has been amazing to work with these amazing teammates, from Mark and Curt to the other people I have competed with in the past. What an honor.”