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For third consecutive year, student team qualifies for international programming competition finals

January 5, 2016

Winning engineering team
From left: Dustin Pho, Chris Wu, and Peter Steele.

BLACKSBURG — Java the Hutt, a team of three Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science students and their advisor, will travel to Thailand in May 2016 to participate in the world finals of the Association of Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Competition (ACM-ICPC).

This is the third year in a row that a team from Virginia Tech's College of Engineering has advanced to the world finals.

The trio -- Chris Wu and Dustin Pho; both of Springfield, Virginia; and Peter Steele of McLean, Virginia -- took second place in the 2015 MidAtlantic Regional intercollegiate programming competition on Nov. 7, placing higher than 183 teams from universities and colleges across the region.

Of the seven three-member teams Virginia Tech sent to the regionals, three finished in the top 20.

Coach and faculty advisor Godmar Bac, an associate professor of computer science, will travel with the team to Phuket Island, Thailand, in May.

“ACM’s International Collegiate Programming Competition is the oldest, largest, and most prestigious programming contest for college students in the world,” said Back. “Each year, almost 40,000 students participate worldwide.”

In the regional competition, the team was faced with seven different problems, with five hours and one computer to solve them.

Steele credited the team’s win to “a combination of preparation, teamwork, skill, and a bit of luck.” Preparation was intense, said the sophomore.

The team competed in mock five-hour contests every weekend as a team, and two two-hour individual coding contests each week.

“We couldn’t have done it without our coach,” said Steele.

“I am very happy about the success of this team, especially since it was their first time participating in the regional competition,” said Back. “They got a great start at their first attempt, but not without extensive practice leading in.”

Since 2012, Back’s training program has produced three world finalist teams.

“Being an ICPC world finalist is a coveted prize very few students are able to achieve,” he said. “It provides a lifelong badge of honor recognized by many in the field.”

Steele said the finals will be even more challenging.

“The world finals are an entirely different game. The problems are significantly harder, the time limit for each program to produce the correct output is tighter, and the teams that you compete against are much better,” he said.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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