Bisons with Byte Heading to World Finals
Posted 23 January 2013
by Maureen Paisley

The UM programming team, Bisons with Byte (undergraduates, Josh Jung, Aman Sachar, and Alex Sachs) has been invited to attend the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), International Collegiate Programming Contest 2013 World Finals, in St. Petersburg, Russia in June 2013.

About the Competition

The annual event consists of several levels of competition.  At the Local Contests, universities choose teams to represent them at the next level of competition.  In 2012, selection took place from a field of 300,000 students worldwide.

At the Regional Contests (held September – December 2012), close to 30,000 contestants from 91 countries participated.  To get a spot in World Finals, the UM competed in the North Central North America region.  According to Mike Domaratzki, Computer Science, the team mentor, “We are typically one of the largest regional contests in the world, with 239 teams registered this year.”

Only 115 teams get an invitation to the World Finals – with only six Canadian university teams making the final cut.  According to the ACM Contest fact sheet: “These teams represent the best of the great universities on six continents – the cream of the crop. . .The contest pits teams of three university students against eight or more complex, real-world problems with a grueling five-hour deadline.  Huddled around a single computer, competitors race against the clock in a battle of logic, strategy and mental endurance.”

The Nail-Byter Regionals

For the UM team, it was a nail-biter right to the end in the Regional Contest. On the day of the competition, Sachs had a Finance exam; he was an hour late arriving to the competition, rushing in to join the team just after writing his exam. 

Jung says: “We solved our final problem just two minutes before the end of competition – on our first try.” 

Sacher explains:  “It can take four or five tries to solve some of the more complex problems.  Getting it on our first attempt was amazing!”

This is the first time the UM has made it to this level, and according to Steph Durocher, Computer Science: “It takes years of committed effort to develop a training program and build a team that achieves this kind of success.  Very few Computer Science departments achieve this.”

Domaratzki explains:  “At each level of the contest, the degree of difficulty rises, and teams with experience have a considerable advantage, because there are patterns to the types of problem used.  Although the contest problem will be new, an experienced team will have seen the type of problem before.”

The Bytes didn’t anticipate getting an invitation to the World’s because they did not win the Regional Contest.  However, because they are in one of the largest regions, they qualified for a wildcard spot (they were in the top ten).

About the Team

Jung, Sacher and Sachs are a somewhat unconventional team, because only Jung is working on a Computer Science degree.  The three friends attended high school together at River East Collegiate and are now in different disciplines at the UM.  Jung is in Computer Science/Physics, Sacher is in Computer Engineering, and Sachs is studying Actuarial Mathematics. 

Domaratzki says:  “It is not uncommon for team members to have multidisciplinary backgrounds, but it is unusual for a team achieving this level of success to have only one team member who is actually studying programming.”

Jung explains: “I thought it would be a fun thing to do; so I recruited my friends to join in.”

In addition to their courses for the term, the three friends and Domaratzki will be busy getting ready for the challenges they will face in St. Petersburg.  The experience will prepare them and future UM teams with the knowledge, to hopefully, send future teams to the World Finals competition.

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Bisons with Byte
back l-r, Josh Jung, Aman Sachar;  front l-r, Alex Sachs and Dr. Mike Domaratzki, team mentor,

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Hard at work preparing for the World Finals