Courtesy of Yale CPSC

The International Collegiate Programming Contest is a global, multi-tiered competition that brings together student teams and tests their ability to problem solve and program under intense time constraints. American teams must first compete at the regional level before they can advance to the North American Championships and represent the continent at the World Championships.

“[The ICPC] divides the world into zones and we are in the Greater New York zone, so every year we start with competitions [there],” said Ruzica Piskac, the team’s coach and associate professor of computer science. “There are so many strong schools in our region, so [the ICPC] decided to host a North American championship.”

The 2019–20 Yale team includes graduate student Yitan Wang GRD ’25 and two undergraduates, Vincent Zhang ’21 and Ziyang Guo ’22 — the latter is a staff reporter for the News. The three were independently interested in starting a team and approached Piskac, who has been Yale’s ICPC coach since 2013. Guo said they have high hopes for the upcoming national contest at Georgia Tech, which will be held from Feb. 19 to 23. The top seven teams from this contest will advance to the world championship.

“Every team has to have at least one reliable coder, one problem solver, and someone who can do both,” said Guo, who is a mathematics major with limited programming experience. “One of our team members, Yitan, is a very experienced coder and he is very reliable, which is important because in this competition submitting a wrong code will cost you time … and every minute matters.”

At the regional competition, the Yale team faced 11 problems designed to test their knowledge on algorithms and programming. Each team consists of three people, but are only given one computer. While one person codes, the other members collaborate and attempt to work out the other problems on paper.

“The competition lasts five hours so you don’t really feel anything for the first four hours, because it feels like such a long time,” said Guo. “It’s really exhausting because you only think about these problems for five hours, but it’s a fun experience.”

When asked why students choose to compete in these competitions, Piskac noted that, in her experience, students join the team as a fun extracurricular. She said that the competition teaches participants how to work closely with a team. Joe Terlizzi, contest director for the Greater New York regionals, also highlighted the contest’s emphasis on teamwork.

“You can’t win this competition alone,” Terlizzi wrote in an email to the News. “You have limited time and resources. It forces the teams to work together to achieve the goal of solving the most problems as quickly as possible.”

As the team prepares to head off to Georgia, both Piskac and Guo eagerly discuss the future of the ICPC program at Yale. They hope that the achievements of the current team will inspire more students to become involved.

“Competing in the ICPC is a fun thing to do, and I suggest that everyone with a math, computer science [or related background] to join the competition,” said Guo, who believes most students have the ability to learn the required skills. “This is not a competition that ranks your intelligence; it is really about your interest in problem solving and coding.”

Piskac encourages any students who are interested in joining the Yale team to reach out to her. Guo said he hopes that more people join, so that they can host training sessions and invite past ICPC champions to campus.

For now, however, the team is focused on placing among the top competitors in Georgia and qualifying for the World Championship, which will take place in June 2020. The World Championship will be hosted at the Moscow Institute of Technology and Physics.

In 2018, the ICPC competitions included 52,709 students from 110 countries.

Kate Pundyk |