Students ‘Battle’ in computer programming contest

This weekend, students from the University will be traveling to Harbin, China for the finals round of the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Contest, also known as the Battle of the Brains.

Team Bardeen members Justin Kopinsky, sophomore in LAS and Qieyun Dai, and Chi Wang, graduate students will participate in the contest Feb. 1-6.

The team won the regional portion of the competition in late October 2009.

“We were happy and excited about it,” said Dai. “During our practices before the regionals, things didn’t go that well, and we were a bit worried that we might not make it to the world final, so it feels really good to finally make it.”

The team is named after John Bardeen, a University professor from 1951 to 1975, who won the Nobel Prize in physics twice and was co-inventor of the transistor, said Marsha Woodbury, professor of computer science and the team’s faculty advisor.

“The programmers, even if we don’t win, are highly sought after by businesses,” Woodbury said.

This is the second year in a row the University has a team going to the finals. The team is competing against 102 other squads including 20 others from the U.S.

Woodbury said her background in sports helped her in coaching the programmers. She said her role is to encourage teamwork and develop a strategy, while Yintao Yu – a graduate student and member of the winning team from the previous competition – does the actual coaching. Woodbury said Yu held a programming contest at the University to find teammates for this year’s regional competition.

“Competitors must be smart about reading problems, doing the easy ones first and communicating with each other,” Woodbury said.

Yu said he enjoys holding training sessions and practices as coach of the team this year and he is happy to help the team achieve its goals.

“I list a bunch of knowledge that they should know before the completion,” Yu said. “I help them develop their skills.”

Yu said he holds mimic competitions for the team. He said each team member may practice on his or her own, but it is important for them to work together.

“There is only one computer for the three (in the competition),” he said.

Each competitor has his or her own strengths, Yu said.

“Justin has a good mathematical background,” he said.

Team Bardeen also welcomes a unique member to this year’s final challenge. Qieyun Dai, graduate student, is the first woman from the University to participate in Battle of the Brains. She said the team has been simulating the real contest to find out who is better at which problems and how to make full use of their time.

“I guess we don’t have girl competitors in the past because girls are less interested in programming competitions, not because girls are not good at this,” Dai said. “I don’t really feel that I’m any ‘different’ from other UIUC competitors.”

This year, Woodbury will receive an honor for her work with the team since 2002.

“I am being honored for having brought teams to the World Championships 7 times,” Woodbury said. “My name will be read at a ceremony along with the names of some other coaches, and I will be given special recognition.”