Doing a semester’s amount of work in five hours may sound like and impossible task, but for 12 Purdue students that was exactly the challenge they were presented.

Recently students from around the United States and Canada competed in the IBM-sponsored, AMC East-Central North American Regional Programming Contest in Cincinnati.

Purdue’s 12 students comprised four teams competing in a field of 122 teams. The teams of three were given a certain number of computer programming problems that they had to solve in five hours. The teams were then ranked according to accuracy as well as time.

“It’s real intense,” said Derek Li, a junior in the College of Science. “Five hours seems long, but in programming it’s really fast.”

This year Purdue sent four teams; those teams placed 10th, 24th and 32nd and received an honorable mention. Li was one of three members of the “Griffins” team, which placed 10th.

“I think every year we’re improving by a little bit,” Li, who is in his third year of competition, said.

Li’s teammate Wenyu Zhang, a senior in College of Science, said although the competition was challenging, it could also be useful after college as job preparation and training.

“I got four interviews with four different companies,” Zhang said. “They (the programming companies) really look at computer competitions because the people that usually do well in competition are very capable.”

To prepare for the competition, team members spent thousands of hours online poring over code and doing practice problems.

Tim Korb, a professor of computer science, has been coaching Purdue’s programming competition teams for the past five years. Korb said that, in preparation for competition, he offers a one-credit course every year.

“We meet three hours a week in the fall semester,” Korb said. “We have a textbook that we use that’s got a number of problems in it and approaches to solving the problems ... then I give them problems with a contest environment that’s similar to what they’ll use when they compete.”

This year, Korb included a simulated snowball fight the students must program strategies for as practice. He has included win-loss rankings for each student’s “snowball team” to encourage the competitive aspect.

This year’s competition challenged participants and included traditional programming powers such as Carnegie Mellon University, Waterloo University of Canada and the University of Michigan.

“We’re in a very difficult region,” Korb said. “I was pleased that our top team was in 10th place out of 122 teams.”

Although the competition was for the students, Korb said it was exciting for the coaches to watch the progress of the teams throughout the challenge and to see the excitement of the students after the competition.

“When they come out of the competition, they’re excited,” Korb said. “They get fired up, they get enthusiastic about what they did wrong this year, how they can better prepare next year – and it gets their competitive spirit charged up.”

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