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UCF to Host, Compete in 2023 ICPC North America Championship

International Collegiate Programming Contest competitions — like the one being held at UCF May 25-30 — are important for boosting the national computer science workforce.
By: UCF News | May 18, 2023

As computer programming continues to grow exponentially in complexity. Our world relies on programming for so many things: scientific research, government services, eCommerce, business operations, artificial intelligence and strong cybersecurity to defend against online attacks.

As programming becomes more sophisticated, it’s vital that America’s programmers keep pace.

For decades, the International Collegiate Programming Contest, or ICPC, has been at the forefront of preparing university students to be the next generation of elite programmers. The contest has grown into a worldwide collaborative of universities hosting regional competitions that advance the top 1% of teams to the annual global championship round, the ICPC World Finals.

Participating universities assemble three-member teams of students who train rigorously to compete at solving real-world computer programming challenges. In this intense battle of the brains, students race against the clock in a competition of logic, strategy and mental endurance.

This year, UCF will host the ICPC North America Championship on its main campus May 25-30. Members of UCF’s Computer Programming Team will also compete. In 2022, UCF hosted the competition for the first time, with UCF’s Team Iris placing seventh.

For many years, collegiate teams from outside North America dominated the World Finals. But that changed at November’s world competition in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology bested 131 elite teams to become the first U.S. team in decades to place No. 1. Six U.S. teams placed in the top 30. Last year’s competition also marked the 11th consecutive year a UCF team made it to the finals.

Why is this important? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer and IT occupations is projected to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030, adding about 667,600 new jobs based on the high demand for workers in these fields. The median annual wage for these occupations was $97,430 in May 2021 — substantially higher than the median for all occupations of $45,760.

The projected growth in these fields translates to heavy demand from employers for skilled programmers able to fill the vacuum. Many companies recruit students who participate in ICPC competitions, often before they graduate.

ICPC — the oldest, largest and most prestigious programming contest in the world — helps to meet that need through training and competition. The contests are held under the umbrella of the ICPC Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity, which is responsible for sponsorship, hosting, fundraising, outreach and operation.

These contests have drawn sponsors that include the U.S. Department of Defense, IBM Quantum, AWS Educate, Endure Capital, Two Sigma, JetBrains and others. Sponsorships continue to be vitally important if the ICPC is going to continue to train and develop programmers who can fill these jobs.

To reach the level of an elite programmer requires skill, commitment — and practice.

“I tell people that programming is like sports — the more they practice, the better they get. If you keep shooting free throws, you’ll continue to improve,” says Ali Orooji, who coaches programming students at UCF. “They become great problem-solvers and great programmers.”

Orooji hosts Saturday practice sessions that attract more than a dozen students.

The contest fosters creativity, teamwork, and innovation in building new software programs, and enables students to test their ability to perform under pressure. For decades, the contest has raised the aspirations and performance of the world’s problem solvers in the computing sciences and engineering.

“Competing in ICPC on the UCF Programming Team put me in a fast-paced environment where I was able to learn new algorithms and data structures quickly,” says Timothy Buzzelli ’18, a computer science alumnus who is now a software engineer at Google. “The UCF Programming Team is successful because team members are constantly helping each other and sharing cool new programming tricks.”

Computer science alum Alex Coleman ’19, who works at Statsig, a Seattle-based startup, looks back fondly on his time competing in ICPC.

“The biggest value of the competition for me was having a fun and engaging way to explore new problems in a team environment,” Coleman says. “It’s just not something you get from a classroom, and not something you could dive into on your own. Many of the topics covered don’t come up often in practice, but have changed the way I think when problem-solving, even outside of advanced theoretical problems.”

Story by Mark Schlueb ’93 ’21MA for UCF Today: UCF to Host, Compete in 2023 ICPC North America Championship | University of Central Florida News