On October 20, 2012, the IEEE Student branch of the University of Southampton played host for the first time ever to the IEEEXtreme 24 hour worldwide programming competition. The IEEE stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and is reputed to be the world’s largest professional organisation. Bringing the IEEEXtreme 6.0 to Southampton for the first time ever presented unique challenges in terms of organisation but I think this paid off in terms of student participation and satisfaction; what with the unique opportunity of competing with students from all over the world at the same time and for twenty four hours at that!
I have been a member of the IEEE ever since commencing my studies in ECS (actually a little bit before that) and was later invited to join the student branch committee in 2011; a role which saw me get involved in organising branch activities. Events are open to all students to attend though preference is given to IEEE members when there are limited spaces. My participation in the IEEE student branch has exposed me to many useful resources and benefits of belonging to a professional body. Thanks to ECS, I do also belong to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the professional body which accredits my degree. Membership of both the IEEE and the IET has helped me appreciate the benefits of pursuing a professional engineering qualification and hopefully becoming a Chartered engineer someday.
In 2012, the IEEE student branch as part of a move to broaden the branch’s activities and to improve members’ student experience, decided to bring the world-renowned IEEEXtreme competition to ECS! This was especially so since ECS has a very strong reputation in the field of computer science with consistent strong showing in relevant rankings. We were also confident of a good showing in the competition; a confidence driven by our faith in the ability of ECS students to pull their weight when given the chance to.
The greatest challenge the branch faced was organisational logistics; we had to apply and get access to the computer labs in Zepler for 24 hours. This did not prove to be as easy as we thought it would be as a decent amount of paperwork was required but with support from relevant staff in ECS we were able to pull through. Another requirement was that the IEEE required Proctors (Academics) to be present for the entire event, that is, for the twenty four hours the event lasted to ensure all teams played by the rules. With the help of the IEEE Branch Counsellor who is a lecturer in ECS, we were fortunately able to get 5 members of staff volunteer to help serve as proctors (in fact, we got more than 5 volunteers).
Having successfully arranged for the venue and proctors, the next challenge was to get student interested in the event. It wasn’t really your everyday kind of event – a 24 hour coding competition – especially when students had other commitments like course works and of course, parties to attend to. Another challenge was that the event was scheduled for a day which was only three weeks into the new academic year and this presented a short time to publicize it to students. However, using emails, social media like Facebook and Twitter and also posters we were able to ramp up interest and did get 8 teams of 22 students in total register to participate! In fact, we had the joint highest number of teams registered by any University in the UK; a decent achievement especially as it was our first time organising this.
ECS student participants included both undergraduate and postgraduate students on a variety of programmes and also included both male and female participants. All our teams were able to hold the fort for the entire twenty four hours, thankfully! The branch committee provided meals and refreshments for the entire event and team members were encouraged to take turns to sleep and exercise around the labs. For me, it was a good excuse to spend the entire day in the Zepler building as we had to be at the venue from 11 pm on Friday, October 19 until 00:30 on Sunday, October 21. Efforts were made to make the teams as comfortable as possible and avoid distractions so they could concentrate on coding. But teams were also encouraged to have fun as well since that’s the main aim of IEEEXtreme.
Teams were required to solve a set of programming questions using a range of supported languages such as C, C++, C#, Python, Java, PHP, Perl and Ruby. Problem solutions had to be submitted online using the contest management tool. Points were allocated based on problem difficulty which was determined based on how many teams were able to solve a particular problem. Teams that solved problems faster got more points. After twenty four hours (and 30 minutes of added time) of extreme coding and competing against about 1900 other teams all over the world, three of our eight registered teams featured in the top 5 UK teams; a very positive achievement.
All our teams featured on the scoreboard as well which means all 8 teams were able to solve some sets of questions; a good achievement I’d say. Indeed, we are proud of the branch’s achievement and we can only say “bring on IEEEXtreme 7.0!”. Have you ever participated in a 24 hour engineering or science challenge? If you end up coming to ECS this year would you consider participating in IEEEXtreme 7.0 in October 2013? Or maybe you’d like to help organise it?
Whatever be the case, the branch would welcome you. Feel free to post any questions you may have about the competition or the IEEE student branch below.