Contest gives BU Students Shot at Google, Microsoft

October 1, 2013

Roque Lacroix looks over computer code during a Manitoba-wide programming competition on Saturday. Lacroix is one of three BU computer science students to make a run at the IBM-sponsored ACM international programming competition in Russia.

Article by Graeme BruceBrandon Sun

In a small computer lab on the bottom floor of Brandon University’s Brodie Building,three computer science students spent Saturday afternoon with their eyes glued to monitors,scanning through lines of programming code.

The third-year students — Roque Lacroix, Alex Trush and Bailey Kacsmar — are making a run at a worldwide programming contest, which almost guarantees winners a golden ticket to Google or Microsoft.

But the trio are far from the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest in Russia. This past weekend was in preparation for a regional competition where the team will face off against nearly 100 teams from Manitoba, northern Ontario and several U.S. states.

The students had four hours to solve as many of the six abstract problems prepared for them in a race against dozens of other programmers in the province. However, nobody is expected to solve all of them.

“It’s who can solve the most in the least amount of time,” said Dr. Ashraf Abdelbar of BU’s department of mathematics and computer science and the local contest director.

Since all three already make up the BU team, they didn’t feel much pressure on Saturday.

The regional competition will be held at various sites including Winnipeg.

Once the trio hits the first round of competition coding in November, they will only have one computer. While one person sifts through code and performs tests on the machine,the others will be writing lines of code on paper with a pencil.

“Part of it is learning to work together, and part of it is learning how to work with limited resources,” said Abdelbar, who was a contest director in Egypt before taking the job in Brandon.

The three students, with lofty goals of becoming video game sound engineers, patent lawyers or cybernetic engineers, don’t have their sights set too high for this year.

“I think each of us just wanted it for experience,” Lacroix said as he waited for the Winnipeg judge’s response to pop up on his screen.

“Wrong answer” popped up just minutes later in a thick red font. “It worked when I tested it three times in a row, but I’ll keep testing it,” Lacroix said with a hint of disappointment.

While Abdelbar said they have a chance to make it past the regionals, the team is also paving the way for other BU computer science students to put the school on the map.

“From my experience, teams often do better when they don’t feel like they have a lot on the line, they’re not tense,” he said.

“It may be a cliché, but dealing with tension in the competition for people who take it seriously can really be a factor.”

University of Manitoba made it to the world finals last year for the first time.

“The students who advance to the finals are snapped up by the big companies, specifically in my experience Google and Microsoft,” Abdelbar said.

That’s despite the fact IBM sponsors the only tech companies allowed to recruit at the competition itself.