For the first time, the University of Central Florida’s most winning student team in three decades will include an all-female group of competitors Saturday in an event that’s considered the regional super-contest of computer programming.
UCF computer science students Jessica Lombardi, Cindy Moline and Isabelle Moreira will head to Melbourne Nov. 10, along with seven additional three-member teams of male competitors who comprise the UCF Programming Team, to compete in the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, also known as the “Battle of the Brains.”
Eighty-five teams from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi will program their way towards regional bragging rights and the chance to continue to the World Finals in June, in Russia.
The UCF Programming Team’s 30-year winning record is unmatched by any similar team in the country. A UCF team has always placed in the top three in the region, with 14 first-place, nine second-place, and seven third-place wins.
And in the World Contest Finals – representing the best of more than 8,000 regional teams from 80 countries – UCF has finished as high as second, fourth and fifth place. Those finishes placed UCF among the elite top 1 percent in the world.
The contest begins with each team receiving up to 12 computer programming problems. Sharing one computer, three teammates strive to solve the most problems in a five-hour contest period. In case of ties, a penalty point system is used. As an example, one problem might ask competitors to route a fire truck across a city to a fire in the quickest time, using a complex set of conditions, such as one-way streets and streets under construction.
The secret to UCF’s success is devoted practice. “Our students practice 35 to 40 Saturdays a year. I don’t know of any other schools in the country that practice like this,” saidAli Orooji, a professor and advisor in the UCF Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and the team’s faculty advisor.
UCF’s seven-hour practice sessions simulate the five-hour contest, with the extra time spent on analysis and feedback.
Members of UCF’s first all-female team say they are prepared for Saturday’s contest, but their gender distinction puts added pressure to succeed. And since their team was assembled this year, they don’t have as much competition experience as some of their male counterparts. However, through their intense practices, they have discovered how to play off each other’s strengths and skills.
Moreira, a freshman, excels in word and logic problems. She thinks being on an all-female team has an advantage. “We have a stronger connection, because we talk more with each other, and understand where the other person is coming from when one of us has a solution.”
Lombardi, a senior, is a whiz with graphs and charts. She says that more women should try computer programming because “it’s a ton of fun. And a computer is not really a complex machine.”
And Moline, a sophomore, also enjoys problems with graphs. She says women should think about joining the Programming Team to become better problem solvers. “The more you practice something, the better you get,” she said, adding: “All the things I’ve learned from being on this team are things that I can take with me in my future career.”