Battle of the Brains

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Journey through Regionals: Interview with Morgan State University’s Coaches

December 10th, 2013

The ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest is no stranger to growth. Since IBM became sponsor in 1997, ICPC participation has increased by more than 1100%. This year, 29,479 of the finest students in computing disciplines from 2,322 universities from 91 countries on six continents participated.

 

The coaches of Morgan State University, long-time ACM-ICPC competitors, chat with us about their growing program and share a few words of wisdom they left their team with before the competition.

From left to right: Fitzroy Nembhard, Morgan State University faculty;  Vojislan Stojkovic, Morgan State University Associate Professor; William L. Lupton, Morgan State University Associate Professor; Ashish Parajuli, Morgan State University faculty

 

Adedeji: Could you tell us about your team?


Stojkovic: I am one of four coaches for Morgan State University. We have had a great increase of students in the last 20 years so we have two teams competing.  We have a great community of 32 students and they are some of the smartest people in the world. 


Lupton: I work in the computer science department at Morgan State University.  Participating in this contest is part of our program to expose students to what the real world is like. It is one of several outings we take our students on to broaden their experiences, so they can become employees of great companies like IBM.


Adedeji: I’m sure you’ve been helping them prepare for months. What type of materials and problem sets did you guys work on?


Stojkovic: We have a few talks each week about programming contests.  You have to understand the most important thing is to understand the problem. After that you must map the problem and understand the right structures and recognize that for most of the problems they don’t need advanced structures.  You don’t need pointers or functions.  You have to know just basic one dimensional and two dimensional rays.  That’s it.


Adedeji: What are the roles of the participants on the team?


Stojkovic: Each team member is briefed in a similar fashion. However, each role depends on the mix of the team and each personality. One team has students with similar skills, enabling them to work well together. The other team is very individual, so everyone has to solve one different problem. We think that they can use their ability to work together to get the job done. The most important thing will be how to recognize what problems to solve.


Adedeji: What are some of the words of wisdom that you shared with your students before coming here today?


Nembhard: The team members are fired up and they simply came to win. We encouraged them to not overthink the problems and to think through what’s asked of them and try to use the simple data structures to provide the solution that is needed. The team that solves the problems the fastest and provides the solution to the problem will win. We told them not to focus too much on the complexities of the problem but rather the algorithms that will get them to the solution. With that, they should be able to relax and take their time while also solving the problem. The more relaxed one is, the better one will be able to think through a problem and come up with a correct solution.  We know they are good programmers and we expect them to do well. 


Adedeji: Thank you for sharing that great advice. I’m sure the ICPC participants are keeping all of those gems in mind for World Finals.