Six hands, one keyboard: icapps at the Flemish Programming Contest

Six hands, one keyboard: icapps at the Flemish Programming Contest

A blog by Maarten Anckaert, Robin Houdmeyers en Jasper Vercammen

For the first time, a three-man team from iCapps participated in the Flemish Programming Contest. A great opportunity to practise our programming skills while learning a thing or two about teamwork.

The Flemish Programming Contest, which is hosted each year by a different Flemish university, aims to challenge coders with different skill levels. The contest is divided in four tiers: secondary education students, professional bachelor students, academic bachelor students, and lastly master students, PhD students and professionals. The challenges are tailored to their level. Teams consisting of three people must solve up to five programming puzzles in three hours time. The catch: each team only has access to a single laptop.

The three of us decided to participate as ‘The Replicants’. Our team competed at the highest level and was pitted mainly against PhD students. We wanted to participate because we like to challenge ourselves. The competition would be something different from the work we do every day, a chance to challenge ourselves and practise our skills. Moreover, we would get a chance to work closely together in an entirely new context.

We tackled two out of the five possible challenges, and discovered quickly that our professional experience could only partly help us in trying to solve these puzzles. First, we had to write a program that could correct a student’s spelling on a test and deliver a score based on the number of written errors in the input document. Next, we had to go ghost hunting by developing a fictional game in which a ‘hunter’ had to take out ‘ghosts’, set in a digital playing field with strict parameters.

Working together on a single laptop while the clock was ticking proved difficult, but we made it work. We divided up the tasks, and tried to come up with a solution in our heads. When we knew what to do, we started typing while the rest of the team checked the code. The entire competition was surprisingly demanding. Typing, thinking about a problem, proofreading and checking each others’ code, all while receiving input from teammates, really stretched our mental abilities to the limit.

The competition was well organized and the three of us had a blast trying to solve the challenges. We were surprised by just how little our day-to-day experience had prepared us for this challenge, but on the other hand that meant we really had to discuss ideas and think creatively. And even though we didn’t get first prize, we did walk away with a cool T-shirt.