College of Computing undergraduate student Animesh Fatehpuria had a decision to make late in the Global CodeCon finals in Bloomberg’s New York City headquarters earlier this year.
Facing 139 other contestants from 45 universities across the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East, Fatehpuria hovered around 30th place with just 30 minutes of the two-hour contest remaining.
In the competition, which tasked individuals to answer eight questions ranging in difficulty and to type hundreds of lines of accompanying code, the freshman student had successfully completed six. He strategically varied the difficulty in the questions he was answering, saving for last one easy question as well as the most difficult of the eight.
After looking at the live scoreboard, he made a quick decision.
“I said, ‘If I do this last one for 200 points, I could jump all the way to first,’” he explained. “’If I do the easier one, I won’t be first, I’ll be in 10th or 11th.’ I felt like coming in 10th or 11th didn’t matter, and I should just go for it.”
It took about 17 minutes to solve the graph-theoretic problem, and once he did, his name rose to the top of the leaderboard, where it stayed for the remainder of the timed portion of the competition.
After celebrating for about a minute, an announced change in scoring revealed that one other contestant had completed the most difficult question in the last few seconds and surpassed him in scoring, leaving him for a bittersweet second-place finish.
“It was pretty dramatic and a little sad,” Animesh said with a laugh. “I was kind of celebrating, but he jumped to first. It was still exciting. Throughout the competition, I was never above the top 20 or 25, so I was kind of hoping for top 10, but not top two or three. Most of them were students with more experience than me. The eventual first-place, Yikuan Li, was an IOI Gold medalist and an ACM-ICPC world finalist, and third-place, Karolis Kusas, is a Ph.D. student at Oxford."
Animesh, now a computer science major at the College, was less than a year removed from finishing high school in Kolkata, India, where he discovered these kinds of coding competitions. In his home country, where a student is to attend university is determined by tests after his or her 12th grade year. Fatehpuria, however, had already determined he wanted to study abroad by the time these tests rolled around. So, instead of devoting all his time to preparing for those, he came across a pair of competitive programming resources.
“One was a MOOC, and the other was a competitive programming site called Codeforces.com,” he said. “It had thousands of problems that you can try to solve, you can ask people, you can see how others solved them and learn from that. It’s stuff you can’t solve in 15-20 minutes. You have to really think for hours. Some problems may need only ten minutes of coding, but the idea behind them might be very complicated. So, I just practiced on that website.”
For his second-place finish, Fatehpuria won a laptop and assorted other prizes, but said the trip itself was the best part. Having never been to New York, he said he took in a handful of “clichéd touristy” activities, like visiting Times Square and Central Park.
“The weather was nice, and we had a day to walk around,” he said. “We couldn’t see everything, but it was fun just to take in what I could. I wished to see snow for the first time in my life, but I could only manage a few snowflakes.”
Now a rising sophomore, Fatehpuria is still motivated to improve in the competitive programming world. He is training for the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC), an annual multi-tiered competition among universities all over the world.
He came to Georgia Tech, he said, for its strong presence in computer science theory.
“I wanted to go to a place that had a strong CS theory department,” he said. “That’s why I chose Georgia Tech. I spoke with some professors and wanted to come work with them.”
He said he is interested in continuing on to a graduate degree after he finishes his undergraduate studies, but noted that it is a long way off and he has not made any decisions.
He is interning at Quora in Mountain View, California, this summer.