UPE competition challenges programmers

This past Sunday, over forty RPI computer science students arrived at Lally Hall to compete in the semi-annual programming competition, put together by RPI’s chapter of the computer science honor society Upsilon Pi Epsilon. The only qualification to enter as a contestant was to be a student currently enrolled at RPI, so non-computer science majors were welcome to participate as well.

The competition, gave the contestants two and a half hours to complete four challenging checkpoints. The first, called “frequency detection,” challenged contestants to write a program that, when given a string of a certain length, would “output a brief summary containing the three most frequent two-character pairs found in the string and [quantify] how many times it was found [to occur].” The second checkpoint, “city navigation,” involved the design of a program that would find the shortest distance to a given location excluding roadblocks and road construction. The third, “password fragments,” was a checkpoint that involved the hypothetical construction of full login passwords from three character fragments. The final checkpoint, “1-D war,” used the situation of an imaginary universe, “Dimenionsia,” that was currently extremely unstable, one-dimensional, and in a constant state of war. The task of the contestants for this last checkpoint was to write a program that would calculate the minimum number of hypothetical troops required to maintain the peace of this imaginary universe.

During the competition, Varun Madiath, the public relations chair of UPE and the organizational chair of the event, was kind enough to take a few moments to speak with me about some of the exciting features of this fall’s competition. Madiath was enthusiastic about the industry response to RPI’s competition. Apparently, the sponsors this fall, which included TripAdvisor, Github, Bloomberg, Kitware, and Google, were extremely generous, which, in turn, gave this particular competition their largest budget yet. Madiath mentioned that he was able to use the enhanced budget to provide an especially enticing round of prizes, which included an Apple iPad, a Playstation 3 (plus Uncharted 3), a 3-D Blu-Ray Home Theater System, a Dell 24” monitor, a Livescribe Echo Smartpen Pro Pack, several Amazon giftcards, two Google Galaxy Nexus 7s, Bose QuietComfort 15 Headphones, and three one-year micro accounts at Github. In addition, Madiath also implied that the contestants who placed well on the scoreboard would likely be excellent candidates to land summer internships at the sponsoring companies.

After two and a half hours of coding, the contest ended with the announcement of the first place winner, Michael Gottlieb ’12. Gottlieb transferred to RPI last year from the California Institute of Technology and was the only contestant to complete all four checkpoints during the allotted time period. In addition to Gottlieb, ten other contestants were also eligible to select prizes.

If you are an avid programmer, or even if it is just a hobby, I would definitely recommend participating in the event next semester. The practice of writing code under pressure, the excellent selection of prizes, and the exposure to industry that participating in the competition may very well facilitate would all be excellent reasons to compete. In any case, as a computer science major myself, I definitely plan to participate in the next event.