St. Pete Programmers World No. 1

St. Petersburg universities finished first and third in an IBM-sponsored world computer programming championship in Vancouver, Canada, on Saturday.

The first-place team — made up of Nikolai Durov, Oleg Eterevsky and Andrei Lopatin, third-year students in the mathematics and mechanics department at St. Petersburg State University, or -SPbGU — also won last year in Orlando, Florida.

More than 13,000 computer science and engineering students and faculty from more than 70 countries competed in regional preliminary contests held from last September through December. The top 17 teams earned places in the finals.

The Commonwealth of Independent States was represented by six teams — including the St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics, which won third place, and Moscow State University and Ural State University, each of which tied with 15 other teams for 14th place.

The object of the contest, said Alexander Alexeyev, a fifth-year student and a coach of the SPbGU team, was to create a computer program that could solve as many tasks as possible in five hours.

"In order to win, we had to create a computer program that could solve some mathematical problems and pass a few mathematical tests," Alexeyev said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

"Our team solved six problems and did it two hours earlier than the Virginia Tech [team], which got second place."

According to Alexeyev, training the team was quite difficult.

"Our technical base was very poor, and we simply did not have enough computers," he said. "The only computer classroom also was used by other students," he said.

"Our training program, in order to get used to the competition, included five-hour sessions spent exercising on old problems that were used in previous contests."

According to Alexeyev, new tasks had to be created often in order to ensure the students would be ready for any problems encountered in the contest.

But despite the technical problems, the team was well prepared for the contest in other ways — the SPbGU students were bright guys long before the they entered the university, Alexeyev said. They started participating in mathematical competitions while they were still in school — and did quite well.

"A large part of their talent was due to very good basic mathematical knowledge given in school," Alexeyev said. "That is one of the strongest points of Russian education. Michigan University, for instance, may have stronger technical facilities, but the smartest guys come from Russia."

Alexeyev himself works as a programmer at a St. Petersburg firm. However, he refused to say how much he earns or discuss the professional plans of his winning team.

The members of the Russian teams cannot be reached for comment until Friday, when they return from abroad. The universities have paid for their trips to and from Vancouver, while the Association for Computing Machinery paid for living expenses during the contest.

As for the team from SPbGU, they're doing a little traveling around Europe to celebrate the victory, Alexeyev said.