Computer Science Students Win “Battle of the Brains”

LAU’s team nab first place at the Lebanese Collegiate Programming Contest.

By Hanan Nasser

Members of the team “Balloons plz” at the Lebanese Collegiate Programming Contest.
Members of the 28 teams that competed in the Lebanese Collegiate Programming Contest.

A team of LAU computer science students took first place at the Lebanese Collegiate Programming Contest (LCPC) beating 29 teams from other Lebanese universities. The contest was hosted by the Lebanese University in Hadath on September 28.

In five hours, the three-member LAU team “Balloons plz” led the contest by solving seven algorithmic programming problems. AUB won second place with six problems solved, while teams from the Lebanese University and the University of Antonine ranked third with four problems solved. A second team representing LAU occupied the sixth place.

The annual event is the first in a three-stage competition, which culminates in the prestigious International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). Both LAU teams are now qualified to participate in the Arab Collegiate Programming Contest (ACPC) against nearly 100 teams from across the region. They must rank among the top teams to qualify for the world finals.

Balloons plz’s win comes after a year of intensive training under the supervision of Computer Science Professor Faisal Abu-Khzam and the support of the LAU Computer Science Club, as well as the computer science community at the university.

“It’s one thing to want to be passionate about programming, but it’s a completely different matter to be part of a community of people all sharing the same passion,” said Ibrahim Heritch, a second-year computer science major and winning team member.

While the team was stressed ahead of the competition, Heritch said all the anxiety disappeared when the contest started.

“Like a well-oiled machine, we picked up the problem set and started solving. The five hours passed quickly, and at the end we knew that we had either lost by an inch or won by a mile.”

LAU launched the competition in 2009 and has participated every year since.

“This contest is often referred to as the ‘battle of the brains,’” said Dr. Abu-Khzam. Participants, he explained, must be well trained in algorithms and data structures, with a solid background in mathematics.

Such competitions give participants a chance to practice their skills while having fun, but most importantly they give them visibility, as “the best companies in the world target the contestants who perform well,” he said.

Computer science major and winning team member Karam El-Kontar said that major companies are always looking for “young, motivated programmers who are willing to go the extra mile, learn more, and challenge themselves,” adding, “what better place can they find such programmers if not at competitions that require all of the above?”

Thanking Dr. Abu-Khzam for his supervision, Kontar also highlighted the involvement of the Computer Science Club.

“They supported our weekly training sessions, some joined us, others helped us get rooms or access projectors to enhance the sessions,” Kontar said.

The club also helped with the 2018 internal university version of the contest, the LAU Programming Contest (LAUPC), which was initiated and regularly organized by Abu-Khzam. The best team at the LAUPC is selected to participate at the LCPC. 

In the training, former contestants are asked to help, including recently computer science graduate Omar Farhat, who was hired twice by Google as an intern because of his participation in the LAUPC and LCPC.

The results of the LAUPC are posted on the ICPC site, Abu-Khzam noted, “which has helped some of our students find their dream jobs.”