National Competition Enriches, Expands Students’ Programming Skills



By Casey Moffitt
Sofia Yang (ECE 4th Year), Avery Stubbings (ECE 4th Year), and Mohamad Fares (CS 3rd Year) holding certificate.

A team of students from Illinois Institute of Technology expanded their skills and gained a greater understanding of the computing profession by traveling to the campus of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, to compete in the International Collegiate Programming Contest North America Championship and Programming Camp.

It was the first time Illinois Tech was represented in the North American championship as Mohamad Fares (CS 3rd Year), Avery Stubbings (ECE 4th Year), and Sofia Yang (ECE 4th Year) displayed exceptional programming skills in the Mid-America Region at Purdue University to qualify the group to compete against 49 other teams from universities across the United States and Canada.

“I have met so many smart people from top universities all over North America participating at ICPC,” Fares says. “ICPC was a continuous learning experience, where I learned about the aspirations some of the contestants have, the work some of the coaches and professors do, and about what it is like to work at some of the most selective companies, such as Jane Street or Citadel.”

During the competition, teams of three students work on a single computer to solve a series of up to 11 programming problems for five hours using various languages, including Java, C, C++, Kotlin, and Python. Teams are evaluated by the number of problems solved, which range from easy to difficult, and how quickly the problems are solved. The competition not only challenges the students’ programming skills, but also their problem-solving skills.

ICPC accompanying events include a career fair and coding camps.

“The coding camps at ICPC left the biggest impression on me,” Stubbings says. “They showed me that there is still so much more that I can learn to improve as a problem solver and coder.”

The team was coached by Illinois Tech Associate Professor of Computer Science Gruia Calinescu and co-coached by Assistant Teaching Professor of Computer Science Farshad Ghanei, who accompanied the students to the North American championship.

Ghanei says competitions such as ICPC complement classroom skills that are challenging to cover in coursework, such as teamwork and cooperative problem-solving.

“The problem-solving nature of these competitions is a bit different from the students’ usual curriculum and course assignments,” he says. “They get to put the algorithms and data structures they learn into practice and see the difference between an inefficient solution and an optimal one. Sometimes students need to break a problem into smaller pieces.”

Ghanei says that ICPC, in particular, presents unusual opportunities for Illinois Tech students.

“It’s very engaging, fun, and fulfilling,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to represent your university, to showcase your knowledge and skills, and to compete among bright students from all around the region, continent, and the world! ICPC is not merely a contest, but rather a celebration of learning, where you get to spend time and network and socialize with members of other universities on challenging and thought-provoking topics that truly engage your brain.”

The students say that ICPC presented opportunities to visit a beautiful campus, meet fellow students from across the country, build networks, and evaluate their skills.

“Going there, we met people who have been doing this for years and the difference in the skill has left such a big impression on me,” Fares says. “The coding ability plus the incredible ideas and problem-solving skills that come with preparing for this competition felt crazy to me, and it motivated me so much to work hard for next year, since now I gained some knowledge about what it like is participating at the ICPC.”

“ICPC helped me learn more about career opportunities in computer science and computer engineering,” Stubbings adds. “The contest was sponsored by several companies that I was able to learn more about through presentations and a career fair. It also introduced me to new concepts in programming that extend beyond the undergraduate curriculum.”

Photo (From left to right): Sofia Yang (ECE 4th Year), Avery Stubbings (ECE 4th Year), and Mohamad Fares (CS 3rd Year) representing Illinois Institute of Technology at International Collegiate Programming Contest North America Championship and Programming Camp held on University of Central Florida's campus.