The Nation January 30, 2012 1:00 am
Discipline, hard work earn global contest victory
Thai students are often accused of lacking self-discipline and analytical and systematic thinking, which are important for problem-solving and teamwork to reach a common goal more easily. But one group of university students has proved they are an exception to this image.
The Chulalongkorn University engineering students won a global competition, becoming the first group of Thai students to win first place in a global programming contest.
Pattara Sukprasert, Thanakorn Chindanonda and Sira Songpolrojjanakul, all 21 years old, are third-year computer engineering students. Late last year they won the IEEEXtreme 5.0 programming contest.
Their team, called “cuSAT”, defeated 100 teams of college students, or more than 4,100 students from 63 countries worldwide, including 18 teams from four Thai universities.
Second place went to students from the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka and third to those from Belarusian State University in Belarus.
IEEEXtreme is a global challenge in which teams of students compete over a 24-hour period to solve a set of programming problems.
It is held by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a non-profit association. The four previous contests received an increasing amount of attention and competitors, making it the world’s largest programming contest.
The fifth contest, IEEEXtreme 5.0, was held on October 22 of |last year, starting at 7am Bangkok time and ending at 7am on October 23. During that time, the Thai students stationed at their universities used computers to solve the programming problems online while those in other countries did the same.
The competition tests problem-solving skills, with real problems in everyday life, by using engineering skills to design a program and send it for online checking through the Internet.
The problems range from simple to intermediate to difficult, directly challenging contestants’ creative thinking and intelligence.
The contestants had to solve problems about managing a large quantity of information or statistics, calculating how to do reasonable shopping under limited conditions, finding right roads to make the shortest journey and solving equations.
Those writing the programme that produces the correct result in the least time are the winners.
By solving most of the problems correctly and taking the shortest time, the Thai students became the winner.
Assistant Prof Pizzanu Kanongchaiyos, a computer engineering lecturer at Chulalongkorn, said the faculty’s students had competed in the contest three times in the past three years.
In the first two times, the best the students could do was rank among the top 10 universities with the highest scores. With more experience in the competition and better team management, they finally won it.
Pattara, Thanakorn and Sira told The Nation they had to continue practising solving programming problems otherwise they would not be fluent enough to write computer programmes to solve the problems quickly.
“Stopping practising only for three months, we will lag behind others, unable to do it fluently as before,” Pattara said.
Teamwork was also the key to success for them, besides self-discipline in drills.
“With the time constraint, we had to manage the time we took |to solve each problem, and as the competition was done over 24 straight hours, we had to manage time to take turns having a short break, too.
“Our team could manage time well and separate the duties of each member effectively. Working under pressure, we felt stressed, but had to help everyone calm down,” Thanakorn said.
Pattara said working together in good teamwork, they respected and trusted the ability of each other.
Sira said they had developed their analytical and systematic thinking, the skill needed for |problem solving after they had practised writing computer programmes before and during the competition.
“Without such thinking, we could not find proper or right answers. We have to analyse the problems and integrate our knowledge to find the best answers,” Sira said.
Thinking skills were actually an important base of study in every field, he said.
Students interested in studying computer engineering should be enthusiastic about learning and keep updating themselves on new technologies, which change very fast in the digital world, they said.
Current computer engineering students who want to compete in IEEEXtreme or other similar programming contests locally and internationally should keep practising and learning how to work with others on their teams, they said.
Sira called on government agencies, like the Education Ministry, to provide more national programming contests and contests in other fields of studies that require practice to motivate more students to seriously improve their skills.
He wants the media to help promote the contests to make them known and popular so that more students will be interested in doing such activities that are useful for them.