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Undergrads Go to Extremes

 Brandon Young, Kirby Linvill, Aaron Chung
Left to right: Brandon Young, Kirby Linvill, Aaron Chung
Photo: Heidi Williams

Imagine holing yourself up in a conference room with two of your buddies for 24 hours. Now, imagine you're doing this as part of a global challenge to test the skills of student teams in solving programming problems. You probably can't even imagine what it would take to keep you going, but electrical engineering's Brandon Young and computer engineering's Kirby Linvill and Aaron Chung (all class of 2015) found out when they participated in the IEEEXtreme 7.0 Global Programming Competition last fall. What it took to keep them coding away was teamwork, sunny dispositions, and lots of iced tea and k-pop (Korean pop music).

"We went in not knowing what to expect," said Chung, "but it sounded fun and a little ambitious." The trio enlisted the help of professors Shoba Krishnan and Samiha Mourad (electrical engineering) and Ahmed Amer, Silvia Figueira, and Maria Pantoja (computer engineering) to take shifts proctoring their effort. The profs kept the team fed and encouraged, and Amer, who had coached the team in advance by providing health tips for surviving the marathon, even pulled an all-nighter.

Bagels and lots of iced tea kept the team fueled up
Bagels and lots of iced tea kept the team fueled up
Photo: Heidi Williams

The competition began with the release of about 20 questions that teams could tackle in any order. Every three hours, more questions were unlocked. "It was a test of your intuition, seeing what your mind can think of in a clever, efficient way," said Chung. But it was also a lesson in teamwork. They quickly identified individual strengths and maximized their time by assigning tasks appropriately. "It was surprising how easy it was to stay focused when you were always engaged in solving the problem," said Linvill, who likened the experience to "an interview, but a step above."

While teams were allowed up to two graduate students, SCU's all-undergraduate team performed extremely well. "In spite of this being their first attempt to enter such a competition, the team had a great finish," said Amer. "They ranked 387th in the world, out of 1,838 teams, 62nd in the U.S., and 16th in Region 6 of IEEE. We are very proud of their achievements and look forward to more teams competing next year." The team agrees. "We're telling freshmen they should get a team together next year," said Brandon. "Even if it's hard, it's a good experience using what you're learning in class and challenging yourself."