SBCC’s competitive programming team wins first place in contest


Image courtesy of Stephen Strenn, assistant professor for the SBCC computer science department.

Alexandra Rubalcaba Ruther, Staff Writer

The SBCC Yellow team overcame language barriers and virtual obstacles to take home first place in the Southern California International Collegiate Programming Contest.

“It was fun even though the competition was stressful and infuriating at times,” Daniel Schaffield, member of the SBCC Yellow team, said. “It was a really good experience and can help you become a better coder.”

The City College team earned higher scores than many four-year universities, such as CalTech, UC Irvine, UC Los Angeles, UC Riverside and UC San Diego.

Teams worked on developing codes to solve problems across five hours and ran their code against the available test cases, which are data sets shown to teams as examples for each problem.

“For problem one we needed to write a program that will read lists of people from the contest’s system and an outside system, and determine which records in each system do not match a record in the other system,” said Monica Aguilar, president of the Competitive Programming Club.

Once teams are confident in their solution, they submit their code to a judging software which runs additional test cases against the code to see if it passes all the tests.

Either the code passes and the team receives a green checkmark for the problem or they receive a brief explanation as to why the code did not pass and 20 minutes is added to their time.

The SBCC Yellow team members included Jaden Baptista, Daniel Shaffield, and Qimin Tao. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the contest was pushed from the fall to this February.

Team members worked individually from their own homes while working in their teams to solve the programming problems.  

“The way the competition was set up made teams feel not real and it was like everyone was working on their own individual problems,” Baptista said. 

Other obstacles in the competition included language barriers between team members.

“I found competing with English not being my first language the hardest part during the competition for me,” Tao said. “I spent an hour reading each question and 30 minutes working on the problem.”

COVID-19 has turned practices into an individual sport and less team-oriented.

Pre-pandemic, the Programming Club was able to meet on the City College campus in the computer science department’s computer lab to prepare for the contest.

The team practiced on the website Kattis while working at their own computers and next to their team members. They were able to find programming problems and look at problems from previous years to get an idea for what to expect. 

“It’s hard to practice for a coding competition, especially on Zoom,” Baptista said. 

On Friday, March 19, SBCC Yellow received news that the team was chosen for a wild-card spot, which is a team that does not qualify in a normal way but still ranks high enough for recognition. SBCC Yellow will compete in the North America Divisional Championship competing against all of North America. 

“It’s exciting and we feel like we can do this,” Shaffield said.