Two MSOE teams competed in the International Competitive Programming Regional Contest (ICPC), an algorithmic programming contest for college students, on Saturday, Feb. 27. The ICPC is the oldest, largest and most prestigious contest in the world and challenges teams of three to work together and solve real-world problems with creativity and innovation.

In this year’s virtual competition, MSOE teams battled for the top score against more than 85 teams from the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Canada, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa in the North Central North America Regional Contest.

Taking home second place in the competition was the Kotlinaughts, comprised of Kiel Dowdel, computer science; Nick Johnson, computer science; and Jacob Huebner, software engineering. CinCity, a team of first year students, took home eleventh place. CinCity team members included Mitchell Johnstone, computer engineering/computer science; Jonny Keane, computer science; and Sam Keyser, computer science. Jim Lembke, instructor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, served as the faculty advisors for the teams.

Both the Kotlinaughts and CinCity qualified to advance to the next round of competition, the divisional, later in spring. The top finishers at the divisional will proceed to the North American Championships (NAC) which are slated to be hosted by Georgia Tech.

Competitive programming teaches students new ways of looking at computing by solving difficult math and science problems involving not only the technical knowledge to determine the solution, but also the need to optimize and execute those solutions as fast as possible. Submissions to problems are evaluated on correctness and speed.

Johnson, Kotlinaughts team member and student lead of the MSOE Competitive Programming Club, describes the challenges of debugging the code and identifying the problem, all while trying to beat the clock and competitors.  

“Not being able to figure out the issue is truly frustrating, especially as you know the other teams are working on it and potentially getting ready to pass you. That’s what a UW-Madison team did to take first place with 13 minutes left in our most recent competition,” said Johnson. “There's something about seeing a [wrong answer] verdict in a stressful situation that makes you want to push harder.”

Although the competition is challenging, it’s also rewarding for students as they enhance their problem-solving, communication and technical skills.

“Competitive programming has brought me a lot in terms of both social and professional development. I really enjoy the challenge of looking at problems that I know how to solve and learning or creating an algorithm to solve that problem. This has helped me get internships and applying my knowledge there has helped me cement myself as a capable programmer.”

View the complete results of the regional competition.