WashU programming team places at world competition

In the recent ICPC World Finals in South Dakota, the WashU team solved five problems, finishing 34th overall among teams from all over the world.

Members of the four teams representing Washington University at the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest with Dennis Cosgrove (front, far right).

Only three other teams from U.S. universities placed better than the WashU team, which tied with teams from University of California, Berkeley; Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay; and ETH Zurich. The team also finished ahead of many larger U.S. and international engineering schools.

Roch Guérin, chair of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, praised the team for its accomplishment.

“Given the size of many of those places, and therefore the number of students they draw from, this is pretty remarkable,” Guérin said.

Previous story: WashU programming team headed to world competition
Dec. 7, 2016

Three Washington University in St. Louis undergraduate students will represent the university at the World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) Finals in South Dakota next May.

Patrick Chao, Sam Heil and Joey Woodson took second place in a regional programming competition in November against teams from Northwestern University, University of Illinois, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University and other universities in the Midwest region. The team was one of four WashU teams at the competition in Springfield, Ill.

Dennis Cosgrove, a professor of the practice in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering and faculty adviser to the teams, said this is the first year in many years that WashU has had a team qualify for the world competition, which will bring in teams from universities worldwide.

"There are some really great schools in this region, particularly in computer science," Cosgrove said. "While the faculty members expect WashU to do well, to crack the top three is an impressive feat. Joey, Sam and Patrick should be very proud of themselves."

The competition gives teams 10 programming problems to solve and only one computer on which to solve them. The team made up of Chao, Heil and Woodson completed seven problems, coming out on top with a team from Northwestern. The Northwestern team won the tie breaker based on total time.

"WashU not only had a team qualify for Worlds, but also demonstrated the best depth in the region with all of our teams performing well," Cosgrove said.

Among the other WashU teams, two completed five problems each, and one completed four.

Heil, a first-year student majoring in math and computer science, said for one of the problems, the team was given a set of incomplete instructions to get to the end goal. The challenge was to get to the end goal by making the smallest number of changes to the instructions. Heil said this problem took about three hours and about six attempts to get the program to work.

Woodson, who is earning bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science with a minor in economics, has been on the team for five years. He said the competitions provide him with the opportunity to show his programming and problem-solving skills among the community and have given him valuable practice for his interviews with Google, where he will be working after he graduates.

"Qualifying for the World Finals gives me the opportunity to represent my school in competition one last time before starting a full-time job," Woodson said. "It is an honor to represent WashU in its first trip to the World Finals in eight years, and I hope we can make our school proud with our performance there, just as we did at Regionals."

Chao, a senior majoring in physics and math, has been on a team each year while at WashU.

"It's a nice feeling when you have an idea and you see it crystallize and get an answer and see it come together in a relatively short time span that problem-solving allows," he says. "It's great to be able to end my college competitive programming career on a high note."

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