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CIS and Ithaca High School host competition for young programmers

From WHCU Tech Minute

High school students from across the state faced off last week in a high-tech competition to see whose programming skills are the best.

It’s called the Cornell Computer Programming Competition, and it takes place every year on campus. Students in three-person teams have three hours to solve a number of programming problems.

Event organizer and computer science researcher Robbert van Renesse explains how the competition works.

“If you solve a problem, you get 100 points, and the team with the most points wins,” he said. “For every time you submit a wrong answer, you get 20 penalty points, and the time between the start of the contest and the time you finish gives a penalty point for each minute as well.”

Van Renesse says there’s a number of problems students have to get through, all involving algorithms, or programs designed to perform tasks.

“A typical problem one might solve is how much change would you get when you have a certain number of bills and a certain number of quarters, dimes, etcetera,” he said. “Another could be how can you count up to a set number, like 365. That would be an easy problem. A hard problem could involve sorting numbers or doing other tasks.”

Among those responsible for constructing the problems used in the competition is Ph.D. student Daniel Fleischman.

“We do not use any math that is above middle-school level, so all the math involved is basic,” he said. “That’s not to say the problems themselves are easy, but you won’t have to use calculus or any advanced math.”

Fleischman says there’s a lot that students can learn from this kind of competition that can help them as they move forward.

“People who do well in competitive programming are usually extremely employable,” he said. “It’s important to like what you’re doing, but companies are looking for these kinds of things. The industrial computer world runs on algorithms, so being able to develop fast algorithms and actually implementing them in code is a very good skill to have.”

In the end, two teams from Ithaca High School took first and third place in this year’s competition.