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Code warriors: Trio of BYU students take on world’s toughest collegiate coding challenge in Egypt

In a high-stakes showdown of wit and code, three BYU students are set to compete in the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) world finals. Armed with a single computer and five hours to solve 12 complex programming problems, Lawry Sorenson, Thomas Draper and Teikn Smith are vying for the title of the globe’s finest programmers.

The ICPC is the oldest and largest international programming contest. This year, the competition will be held in Luxor, Egypt, where 140 university teams from 111 countries will flock together to solve real-world programming problems using creativity, mathematics and innovation.

“Our team has worked really hard for multiple years to reach this level,” said BYU computer science professor and competitive programming team coach Ryan Farrell. “They have put in lots of time training and improving — collectively solving thousands of individual problems on their own and completing many five-hour practice contests as a team.”

During ICPC competitions, teams have five hours to solve 12 complicated programming problems with real-world applications. The team that solves the most problems in the shortest amount of time wins. Teams are allowed to reference a 25-page book of notes and code fragments during the competition but have just one computer to type the code into once they design a solution.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to represent BYU at an international contest,” said Draper. “I’m certain it will be a memorable way to finish off my undergraduate experience.” Draper’s illustrious BYU career includes a citation as first author of a publication during his sophomore year.

To be invited to the world finals competition, student teams must first finish in top spots at regional and national competitions. During the national competition, BYU’s student team finished just minutes behind top computer science programs such as UC Berkley and UCLA and ahead of teams from other top programs like Yale, Princeton and UT Austin.

“I appreciate the teamwork and team-building experiences I’ve had with the programming team,” said Sorenson. “In the last 10 minutes of the national competition, Teikn and I worked together and managed to solve a final problem that allowed us to qualify for the world contest. I thought that was pretty fun.”

The last time a BYU team qualified for the world finals was 20 years ago in 2003 and 2004, before the program was discontinued at BYU for a time. Farrell decided to start up a group again in 2019.

“These types of coding problems are very similar to what they will see in full-time job interviews,” said Farrell. “It’s a skill we didn’t previously emphasize in our curriculum, but now we have two classes to help them prepare.”

For Sorenson, Draper and Smith, the chance to compete internationally is a final hurrah. In future months, they’ll forge different paths as they pursue various academic and career endeavors. Smith is working full time at Lucid Software in South Jordan, while Sorenson will be working towards his Ph.D. in computer science at BYU. Draper will pursue a Ph.D. in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in the fall after graduating from BYU with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics, physics, computer science and statistics.

“I look forward to seeing the places that they will go and the contributions they will make,” said Farrell. “Great experiences at BYU, including training and competing together, have complemented their upbringing and hard work, launching them into bright futures and impactful careers. It has been an honor to work with them.”

The ICPC world finals competition will be held on April 18. You can follow along with the BYU programming team on the BYU computer science Instagram account and website while they travel to Egypt to compete. They are also planning to take a few side excursions to see the Great Pyramids and explore Paris during a long layover.

By Shelby Clark & Grace Pope, April 16, 2024

Media Contact: Tyler Stahle
Originally Published by BYU News