A trio of Simpson students took first place at the Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS) Programming Contest held April 5-6 at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D. As a whole, Simpson placed three teams in the top 15, more than any other college or university in the field.
Drew Roen, Nathan Magalhaes and Max Folkers—known as the Flat Earthers—topped the field of 64 teams by solving 7 of 8 problems within the three-hour time limit, winning by a wide margin. The next closest team didn’t solve its sixth problem until the final minutes of the competition.
“It was a little anticlimactic, but we were very excited,” Roen said of his team’s dominance.
The winning formula
A senior alongside a pair of sophomores, Roen felt good about the team’s chances of winning going into the competition due to their camaraderie. The trio first teamed up at the International Collegiate Programming Contest in the fall, allowing them to learn the strengths of each individual team member.
“That’s probably the best contest I’ve been a part of as far as teamwork is concerned, so we wanted to continue it,” Roen said. “Clearly, it went very well.”
Though programming is typically a solo venture, Mark Brodie—associate professor of computer science—echoed the importance of teamwork and communication in a competition in which resources are limited. The teams of three work on just one computer and don’t have internet access.
“You’d think that taking the best three students and putting them together on a team makes the best team. No. The team that has collaborative leadership...learning who does well at what, who needs help with this...that becomes key,” he said.
Dominant from the beginning
The Flat Earthers led the field for a majority of the competition. They moved into first place by solving their third problem in just 25 minutes and extended the lead from there. At a programming competition, the first few problems tend to be less difficult, so it’s common that a team with the early lead will fall back.
That wasn’t the case this time. Roen, Magalhaes and Folkers finished without an incorrect submission, a rarity in an event featuring problems with a high degree of difficulty.
“There are two aspects,” Brodie said. “You have to solve the problem first, which is independent of the language. Then you have to write the code in the specific language, which raises another set of issues on its own.”
Watching the leaderboard from a separate room on campus, Brodie—who also served as one of the judges in the competition—started to get excited early in the day.
“I was hopeful in the first hour, then after the first hour I thought it might go somewhere,” he said. “They just kept solving problems.”
The growth of a program
Simpson has taken part in programming competitions for a decade, first fielding a winning team in 2016. The computer science department takes pride in the number and quality of students who participate. This time around, a group of 15 made the eight-hour trip to Fargo solely for the experience. There was no grade and no extra credit tied to participation.
“It demonstrates the strength and depth of our department when a large number of our students participate and do well,” Brodie said.
In addition to the Flat Earthers, Simpson got top-15 finishes from the team of Mark Becker, Sam Law and Payton McBurney (seventh) and the team of Blake Dalmas, Bryson Cook and George Saucedo (15th). Sam Adeniyi, Ben Christensen, Trey Chumbley, Brooke Schoen, Emmy Farrell and Chad Carter also participated.
The experience marked the culmination of an impressive career for Roen. He not only double-majors in computer science and mathematics, but he’s also a member of Simpson’s cross country and track and field teams. Following graduation, the Dubuque, Iowa-native will begin his career as a software developer for Source Allies, Inc. in Urbandale, Iowa.
“I’m happy I could finish my senior year off on a good note.”