For the second year in a row, a team of three Northwestern students has been chosen as one of 100 teams from six continents to compete in the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest’s world finals. This year, the event will take place Feb. 1 to 6 in Harbin, China.
NW, the only Iowa school to be selected, received an at-large bid after its team finished in third place in the North Central regional competition on Oct. 31. Members of the NW team are seniors John Calsbeek and Curt Van Wyk and junior Mark Haselhoff. Calsbeek and Van Wyk were on the team that competed in the 2009 world finals in Stockholm, Sweden.
As a member of the 2009 team that went to Sweden, what was your experience like?
Calsbeek: It was a relatively tame first-time-out-of-the-U.S. experience for me. Stockholm itself is a gorgeous city. The contest was lots of fun—there was a fair bit of adrenaline pumping—and it was a treat to be in the same room as 99 other teams working on the same stuff.
Van Wyk: I was impressed by Sweden’s rich history. We went to an old fortress island and participated in a set of challenges throughout the island. Our opening ceremony and closing ceremony took place in the same buildings where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies are.
Do you have any memorable stories from the Sweden trip?
Calsbeek: We sat almost directly across from the team that placed first in the entire contest. In the world finals, every team gets a balloon tied to their workstation every time they solve a problem. So our entertainment during the contest was watching the cloud of balloons near our station grow larger and larger.
What is it like being in a room with so many smart students from all over the world?
Van Wyk: It is humbling to be in the presence of so many brilliant students. It is also very encouraging to know that there are so many bright people that can do a lot to improve the world. With such people, smarter solutions to new world problems are attainable.
What part of the China trip are you most looking forward to experiencing?
Haselhoff: This will be my first time overseas, so I’m really looking forward to experiencing a different culture. This year the contest is taking place during the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, so seeing all of the sculptures will be exciting too.
Does your team have a new strategy for this year’s world finals?
Calsbeek: Probably. Last year we used pretty much the same strategy as we use at regionals—divide and conquer. We split up all the problems, try to find the easiest and have one person work on that while the other two work on a problem by themselves. Turns out, the problems at the finals are harder—surprise!—and that strategy didn’t pay off so well. This time we’re probably going to focus on one problem at a time, the better to pool our brainpower.
Do you have any new goals for this year’s competition?
Calsbeek: This year I will be satisfied if we get a single problem correct.
Van Wyk: I think my goal is to better analyze the problems and to collaborate more on a single problem first.
What makes computer programming fun for you?
Van Wyk: I enjoy computer programming because it allows me to develop a solution that will work for many cases. Programming is fun essentially because it is problem solving and I enjoy solving problems.
Haselhoff: I have always liked trying to solve complicated problems, and trying to get a computer to solve the same problems for you just adds to the challenge and makes it more fun.