by Yiwei Zhang
In February, 2023, Brown CS faculty member Yu Cheng brought four teams of students to the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC)’s Northeast North America (NENA) Regional Contest at the College of the Holy Cross site. Their story is told here. Below, one of the students from the team that advanced to the national level shares his experience of that event.
Although I had participated in ICPC competitions before, it was limited to the regional level. I had never set foot in a national-level contest, so this ICPC North America Championship (NAC) experience was particularly exciting for me. Within a short week, I met coding enthusiasts from all across North America, exchanged contact information, and made friends with them. From strangers to folks who shared a hotel room to watch sports together, it was all thanks to our shared passion for programming.
Aside from the competition, what impressed me the most were the various activities and souvenirs. Just the sponsor gifts from ICPC and the sponsoring companies were abundant. The group photo session during registration was quite funny, with teams wearing their competition uniforms and striking the most peculiar poses. At the Career Fair, we had the chance to meet well-known companies such as Two Sigma, Citadel, and JetBrains, and even submitted our resumes. We also had the opportunity to meet Tourist (Gennady Korotkevich), widely recognized as the GOAT in competitive programming history. Most of our time outside of the activities was spent attending algorithm lectures and participating in practice contests to warm up for the main competition.
Before the official contest began, we lined up one by one, and the host announced the names of each university. When our turn came, we walked to the entrance of the competition hall, where cameras were flashing, making me feel like a Hollywood star. Then we passed by the sparkling championship trophy, engraved with the names of previous champion universities. It was said that touching the trophy would bring good luck to the participating teams, so I followed the tradition and gave it a touch while praying that we would make it to the World Finals. Sitting down at our computers, there were cameras installed, ready to live stream the competition at any moment. All of those things intensified the atmosphere in the competition hall.
Once the contest started, we worked together according to our pre-planned tactics. I tackled the easiest problem first, although even the easiest one took me nearly 50 minutes. There were no simple problems in the North America Championship. As the competition progressed, the gap between us and the other teams widened due to the difference in skills. Realizing this, my teammates decided to read several harder problems simultaneously, hoping to surpass other teams by doing so. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side this time, and we ultimately didn't make it to the World Finals.
Nevertheless, I have no regrets about being absent for four days of my internship to come to Orlando and compete in ICPC NAC. Through this experience, I truly felt the gap between myself and the top programmers in North America. We tried our best, gave it our all, and fought to the last moment. I would like to quote a line from my favorite manga, "Slam Dunk," which perfectly describes my journey: "What's your most brilliant moment? For me, the most brilliant moment is now." In our youth, there are always regrets, but it is precisely because of these imperfections that make our youth more worthy of reminiscence. I believe that many years later, when I look back on this competition, there will surely be a smile on my face.
In the end, I want to thank University of Central Florida for hosting this year’s NAC. I want to thank Prof. Yu Cheng for supporting us throughout our journey from the Northeast Regional to the NAC. I hope to see Brown University advancing to NAC again next year!