ISU Programming Team Advances to World Finals Again

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Three Iowa State University students will advance to the Association for Computing Machinery’s world finals programming competition May 20, 2017, after finishing in the top three of 232 teams in a regional competition.

Yuxiang Zhang, a senior in Mathematics, Jacob Perin, a junior in software engineering, and Ian Gottshall, a sophomore in computer engineering, traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska for the Oct. 29, 2016 regional competition. Teams were given a series of problems to solve, and a panel of judges ranked the teams according to how many problems were solved correctly. To resolve any ties, teams were further ranked by the amount of time it took to solve each problem.

L to R: Jacob Perin, Dr. Simanta Mitra, Yuxiang Zhang, and Ian Gottshall.

Zhang, the leader of the team, attributes their success to teamwork.

"Ian solved one really tedious problem that I did not even understand," he said. "Jacob gave me ideas and helped me debug programs after I submitted my solutions, so that I could focus on the other new problems. I enjoyed working with my team to solve problems."

Resilience also played a large role in the team’s outcomes. Just one week after the team was assembled, one of the team members dropped out, leaving the team at a considerable disadvantage. Zhang, a three-year veteran of the competition, had also not performed as well as usual in the individual qualifying contests, and he emailed the team’s coach and said he was leaving the team as well.

However, Dr. Simanta Mitra, the team’s coach, recruited Perin and asked Zhang to reconsider. Zhang agreed to lead the team, and the ensuing practice sessions paid off with an unexpected win for the group.

The regional and world competitions are designed to help students develop and demonstrate problem-solving, programming, and teamwork skills. Students have the opportunity to network with their peers, and representatives from both industry and academia can interact with the next generation of computer professionals.

"It prepares us to write robust code and solve complex problems in real life," Zhang said.

The ISU team will use only one computer and a calculator while competing in the world finals in Rapid City, South Dakota. This will be Zhang’s second trip to the world finals, and the fourth consecutive year an ISU team has competed in the world finals.