Programming is not simply numbers
University President Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ once told competing programming students that their work is about people. “Programming is not just about numbers, letters, or algorithms,” he said. “There are faces behind these codes.”
True enough, the work of the Regionals’ Best Local Team was the result of the efforts of all the members of Team Fuchsia Moth. The team includes students David Martin Cuajunco, Kyle Stephen See, and Jose Enrico Tiongson, and is coached by Vernon Gutierrez.
Team Fuchsia Moth was one of the Ateneo Programming Varsity teams that competed in the Association for Computing Machinery-International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC) Asia-Manila Regionals last Dec. 15, 2016. It is described as the Olympics of programming competition and it is also the oldest, largest, and most prestigious programming contest in the world.
They got the 4th spot and this was not the first time Fuchsia Moth soared high. In 2015, they emerged as the top Philippine team during the Singapore Regionals. They also competed in the 2016 World Finals in Phuket, Thailand, breaking the decade-long hiatus since the last time Ateneans entered the World Finals in 2006.
“Competing in the World Finals was more difficult, but the Asia-Manila Regionals is generally the most difficult among the other regionals,” See (BS Computer Science - BS Mathematics) said. His teammates agreed that it was probably the hardest regionals they have ever competed in.
There are about 20 regional contests all over Asia. In the past, they said that the Philippine regionals were significantly easier than others, but the Manila leg of the contest last year was a game-changer.
Coach Gutierrez, a faculty member at Ateneo’s Department of Information Systems and Computer Science (DISCS), said that a lot has happened since the last time the country hosted the regionals in 2011. "We were surprised because it stepped up," he said. "It was more challenging and it was more organized."
Nothing is impossible, however, with practice. Fuchsia Moth trained by reviewing questions from previous regionals. They also used the same method of training during the 2016 World Finals, only this time, they focused on certain topics the judges specialized in.
Tiongson (BS Computer Science - BS Mathematics) shared that reviewing past problem sets added to the team’s strengths. “It's to gauge where we were at," he said. "[We gauged] how many problems we could solve and discussed the problems we couldn’t solve."
Though training took up their time, they said that some sacrifices really had to be made. "We had to spend less time for other leisurely activities," they said. "But it helped a lot. We enjoyed training with our teammates and we enjoyed what we learned."
The team was also able to train in a conducive environment. The Ateneo's School of Science and Engineering (SOSE), as well as alumni donors and sponsors, provided them with materal and financial support during their training.
Coach Gutierrez stressed that school support, at an institutional level, was a crucial factor. “We’re maybe the only school that is strongly supported,” he said. “Not all schools are convinced that this is something good for the students or that competing is important for the school, too.”
Support from different sectors was important, too. in fact during the practice session of the Asia-Manila Regionals on Dec. 14, Asia-Manila Regional Site Contest Director Dr. Kardi Teknomo and ICPC Asia Director Prof. C. J. Hwang hoped that the government, companies, and other schools will support the competition because it served as the "foundation" of students in the world of programming. It also fostered teamwork, creativity and innovation by using real-world programming problems.
Dr. Teknomo added that the actual result of the conteset will begin when the students start contributing to society by developing super systems for our coutries in the Asian region.
The faces behind Fuchsia Moth
Fuchsia Moth has been competing for over 4 years and they have been challenged and have adapted to these challenges.
For Cuajunco (BSM Applied Mathematics, Major in Mathematical Finance), the ICPC gave students the opportunity to think of ways to assess and solve problems efficiently. "That's something computers can never do alone. This is a skill that's helpful in all aspects," he said. He and Tiongson pointed out that the change in the regional contest made their team improve and take a few steps forward to come out on top.
"Our rankings in each of the regionals have been increasing," Cuajunco added. "We got used to the problems. We were more prepared and I think that's the most important thing. When it's in the moment, you get better and better."
See, who is graduating this year, said that the ICPC helped them hone their programming and problem solving skills. "(The ICPC) allows people to build connections with programmers from around the world," he said.
The ICPC will open another season soon and there’s still a long way to go but Fuchsia Moth is taking it one step at a time.