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TCCC Preview: China Steps Up

By kzimmerman
TopCoder Staff

The 2006 Collegiate Challenge will play host to 13 coders from China, occupying seven slots among the Algorithm semifinalists, one in the Design finals, and six in the Development finals (with maone competing in both Design and Algorithms). This number is not just greater than the number of Chinese coders at the 2005 TCCC; it's 30% more than the number of Chinese coders at the 2005 TCCC, 2005 TCO and 2006 TCO combined.

How did they do it? We asked some of the Chinese coders coming to the TCCC for their insights into what's working – how their schools and peers have helped, and why their numbers are up so much this year. We also asked what they would like to see change, if anything, in the way their schools prepare coders for competition. Here are their answers, along with a brief look at the universities they call home:

TsingHua University
Founded in 1911, the original mission of TsingHua University was to prepare Chinese students for continuing study at American colleges. Now it's preparing them to beat students at American colleges, and just about everywhere else, without having to leave Beijing (except, that is, for tournaments). With a school rating over 2250, TsingHua is the second-highest ranked school in TopCoder, behind only Warsaw University. Situated on former royal gardens of the Qing Dynasty in northwest Beijing, Tsinghua University is home to roughly 20,000 students, including 12,000 undergraduates, 6,200 master's degrees candidates and 2,800 doctoral candidates. Competitors from TsingHua include:

Algorithm semifinalist
TsingHua University

OpenGL credits his schools participation in, and training for, the ACM/ICPC tournament with helping to jumpstart TopCoder participation. He also points out a practical reason for why Chinese coders may be doing better:

"The network. There is a really poor network in China (especially in universities). We always used to get dropped just when we wanted to submit… but now, is there an TopCoder web server in China? It's gotten a little better."

Algorithm semifinalist
TsingHua University

Like many competitors, Macsy got his start thanks to a friend. "I was referred by my schoolmate, liympanda. He told me what TopCoder is and how to compete."

Regarding the number of Chinese coders at the TCCC, Macsy credits it to better awareness of TopCoder, in general: "I think it is because of more and more Chinese students knowing about TopCoder algorithm competition."

The Institute of Software, Chinese Academy of Sciences
The Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Science (ISCAS) is a leading research institute in China, focused on the fundamental theories of computer science as well as software technologies and their applications. ISCAS offers Ph.D. and master programs in computer science and software technology, as well as master program in pure mathematics. Currently, there are about 400 graduate students.

Development finalist
Institue of Software, Chinese Academy of Sciences

What would kakarotto change about his university? "I'd like it to reduce the quantity of homework and exams! I think students should have more time to think by themselves freely; I feel limited and uncomfortable when there are so many exams."

When asked why Chinese student have performed better in this year's TCCC, kakarotto shows his true colors – TsingHua purple and white. "I think it is mainly because there are many students from Tsinghua University, which is the best university in China, joining the TCCC this year. They have done a great job. I am also a graduate of Tsinghua, though I am now taking my Master's study at Chinese Academy of Sciences."

Zhejiang University
Seven hundred miles away from Beijing, in the coastal city of Hangzhou, is Zhejiang University. Founded in 1897, it is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in China and has consistently ranked among the top universities in the country. More than 40,000 full-time students attend the university, including roughly 25,000 undergraduates, 12,000 students pursuing masters degrees, and 6,000 doctoral candidates. Among them are more than 100 affiliated TopCoder members, who have performed well enough to make ZheJiang the 10th-highest performing school in TopCoder's rankings.

Algorithm semifinalist
Design finalist
ZheJiang University

"I think my schoolmates help me a lot in TopCoder things. We discuss algorithms and components in our campus BBS, and even sometimes have dinner together and talk to each other about TopCoder. There is a TopCoder atmosphere around me, and that makes me not alone. And especially, I want to mention WishingBone at TopCoder. He is the pioneer, and he is our pilot. Although he didn't teach me much hand on hand, I really learn a lot from him, both in knowledge and spirit."

We can see Chinese coders play much better and better. The most important reason is that more and more Chinese coders participate in the competitions. Currently, TopCoder's Chinese collegiate members are mainly from Zhejiang University, Zhongshan University, and Tsinghua University. This is only a small part of Chinese universities. And even from just these three universities, there are still many good coders that haven't registered at TopCoder. For example, there are many IOI gold medal winners studying at THU, but as far as I know only a few of them have joined TopCoder."

Development finalist
ZheJiang University

"A lot of my classmates helped me, especially fairytale who is the monitor of our class. When I started to compete in Component Development contest, I asked him a lot of questions about the challenge procedure, the code convention and dependent components' detail (I was too lazy to read the component doc), and he gave me great help. He is my torchbearer on TopCoder Component Development contest."

Would he change anything about his education if he could? "I would choose College of Computer Science, Zhejiang University again!"

Algorithm semifinalist
ZheJiang University

"My university, and especially my ICPC teammates, has helped me a lot in succeeding at TopCoder. Actually, it was my teammates who told me about TopCoder in 2002. Later in that year, I registered my topcoder handle… Pity that there were already no prizes for SRMs at that time…

"You may see from my rating history that I participated quite often in the year of 2003. So did my teammates. After each SRM, we discussed the problems and the mistakes we made in that match. It really helped a lot in making rapid progress. Though this happened quite a time ago, my achievement could not have been done without the solid foundation set at that time."

"Though I don't have the statistics and can't say for certain, I think Chinese students have done better this year mainly because the first Google Code Jam China was held this January. In GCJC, competitors got to know that TopCoder, the provider of the competition platform, is also holding challenges on its own website. As a result, many of them (especially those who are or had been IOI or ICPC competitors) began to participate in SRMs. The more Chinese competitors there are, the higher the chances for finalists to be Chinese."

Development finalist
ZheJiang University

"My university has a very good history in ICPC contest, and also has our own online judging system (, which is one of the most successful OJ systems. Many of my schoolmates, and not just those from Computer Science, are very willing to practice their programming skills. That is a part of the reason why there are so many people from our University competing in TopCoder… There have always been many talented college students here, but they just haven't known that there was a challenge like the TCCC. "

Development finalist
ZheJiang University

"I'm member of the ACM/ICPC team of our school. My teammates introduced TopCoder to me and taught me how to compete in SRM, and that's where I started my TopCoder life. When I was trying to learn how to compete in component challenges, they also offered me a lot of help, or else I would not have known how to get started."

"In China, there are lots of very very good programmers. You can see that in every year's IOI, as the Chinese team will almost always be the top. This year TCCC has more Chinese coders because more Chinese coder are now familiar with it… I hope TopCoder holds more activities in China so it will become more and more popular."