As if 20 hours in an aeroplane was not enough, the South African team at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) in Japan faced a typhoon and two earthquakes.
The South African team consisted of Tian Cilliers (Stellenbosch High School), Ralph McDougall (Curro Durbanville) Taariq Mowzer (Fairbairn College) and Emile Tredoux (Parklands College) took part in the 30th IOI in Tsubuka, Japan. These four were the winners of the 2017 Standard Bank Computer Olympiad. The IOI is the international coding contest for high school learners and takes place in a different country every year. This year a record number of countries entered a record number of participants; 335 participants from 87 countries.
Nineteen from Africa
Five counties from Africa entered 19 participants altogether. Taariq Mowzer, Ralph McDougall and Tian Cilliers came third, fourth and sixth respectively among the 19 contestants from Africa. At various stages of the contest each of the South African participants was in line for a bronze medal. However, it was not to be. As any seasoned traveller will be able to tell you, flying form West to East is the one that gets you. If there had been a medal for flying the longest distance the South African team would have brought it home.
The IOI gives participants the opportunity to mix with other participants and to experience different cultures. This the team did. Tian states:
“We immediately saw signs of Japanese culture when we arrived at the airport: self-service biometric stations and posters advertising Anime Tours.”
“We were amazed at the opening ceremony when the holographic depiction of the IOI mascot came to life and welcomed us.”
Among the unanticipated experiences were a typhoon and two earthquakes.
A few contestants used different computer languages to solve the six problems, but most stuck to one language: C++. Of the contestants 332 used C++, seven used Java and only one used Pascal. Providing for Python for 2019 is being considered, but it is not sure if Python can deliver the result for all the test cases in the time allowed – sometimes less than half a second!
Among the 355 participants there were only two or three girls. The low female participation is quite common in the scientifically orientated Olympiads such as the International Maths Olympiad and the International Physics Olympiad. In an effort to redress the imbalance the Institute for IT Professionals is issuing bursaries at school level and beyond to female coders.
2019 Azerbaijan for the winners of the 2018 Standard Bank Computer Olympiad.
2020 Singapore for the winners of the 2019 Standard Bank Computer Olympiad.
2021 Egypt for the winners of the 2020 Standard Bank Computer Olympiad.
2022 Indonesia for the winners of the 2021 Standard Bank Computer Olympiad.
South Africa was host to the IOI in Cape Town in 1997.
Photographs available on request
More information available from www.olympiad.co.za and firstname.lastname@example.org
Media release by Michael Cameron
Phone 021 448 7864
Only three learners in 34 years of the annual SA Programming Olympiad have earned the gold medal twice.
At the Awards Dinner during the school holidays Taariq Mowzer became the third. In grade 11 at Fairbairn
College in Cape Town, Mowzer (17) competed against nine other finalists from three provinces to claim the
prestigious Standard Bank trophy, first awarded in 2005.
Tian Cilliers (Stellenbosch High) and Emile Tredoux (Parklands College) each won a silver medals, while the
three bronze medals went to Liam Foxcroft (Bishops), Ralph McDougall (Curro Durbanville) and Andi Qu (St
John’s College, Johannesburg). Qu (15), the youngest finalist commented “I think it’s great that high school
students get an opportunity to be exposed to difficult problems like these”.
To celebrate 15 years of Standard Bank support for the Olympiad, the finals moved from Cape Town to the
Bank’s Global Leadership Centre in Johannesburg for the 10-hour weekend coding contest. On Monday the
finalists took a guided tour of three of the Bank’s computer facilities including mobile banking. Tian Cilliers
commented “We learned a lot about the specific technologies and workflow methods used to improve
efficiency and provide the best experience to the user.”
The first round of the Programming Olympiad attracted 2,036 participants to the 1-hour contest at schools in
August. Of the participants invited to the second round, 539 took part online in the 90-minute contest. The
programs of the top performers were checked to see that they provided the correct output. Ten learners
took part in the finals – one from Gauteng, two from KwaZulu-Natal and seven from the Western Cape.
According to Michael Cameron, manager of the Standard Bank Programming Olympiad, “Olympiads help to
identify and develop talent in schools so that youngsters who wouldn’t otherwise have chosen a career in IT
are encouraged to do so.”
Nicole Borges, Head of CIB Technology at Standard Bank, ended the Awards evening with the challenge to
the ten finalists “Technology will do great things for our communities, country and the world and you will be
at the heart of it. Go out and not only advance us in the Fourth Industrial Revolution but help us Future
High resolution photographs available on request
Michael Cameron Manager: S.A. Computer Olympiad Land line: 021 448 7864 Email: email@example.com
Taariq Mowzer, in grade 10 at Fairbairn College in Cape Town, won the gold medal in the 34th South African Computer Programming Olympiad. He described the Mastermind question of the event as “one of the most fun questions I have done”.
Along with 12 other finalists he spent two days writing six computer programs to solve problems. His solution to the the Mastermind problem, based on the 1972 board game, gave him the edge to win the prestigious Standard Bank Trophy and his gold medal at the awards dinner. In her address, Nicole Borges, head of investment banking technology emphasised that Standard Bank’s investment in the Olympiad over the past 15 years showed commitment to develop and reward high level programming skills in South Africa. “These skills are in great demand”, she said, adding that “half of my day is spent on blockchain technology”.
There were 227 schools from all nine provinces that participated in the first round. The initial field of 2 348 participants was reduced to 478 for Round Two and 13 reached the finals – all of them with perfect scores. The Programming Olympiad Finals took place over an October weekend at UCT. The finalists came from five provinces. The two silver medal winners were Tian Cilliers (Gr 11, Stellenbosch High) and Ralph McDougall (Gr 11, Curro Durbanville). The three bronze medals were earned by Jordan Arenstein (Gr 12, King David Victory Park, Gauteng), Donal Davies (Gr 12, Woodridge College, Eastern Cape) and Emile Tredoux (Gr 11, Parklands College, Cape Town). The medal winners will be invited to attend training camps where they will also compete to qualify for the South African team of four to go to Japan in September 2018 for the 30th International Olympiad in Informatics.
The guest speaker at the Awards Ceremony was Dr Judith Bishop, a distinguished Computer Scientist and author of 16 books on computer languages. While working as Director of Research at Microsoft in Seattle, she was on the development team for the micro:bit, which she demonstrated. In 2016 this tiny programmable device was given to one million 11-year- old learners in the UK as part of the BBC “Make it Digital”. The aim was to inspire a new generation to get creative with coding and not to be mere users (consumers) of technology.
“What are the hot areas in Computer Science today?” asked Dr Bishop. “There is no doubt about it, AI (Artificial Intelligence) is top of the list. All of industry is trying neural networks, machine learning, vision recognition, language translation, etc.” She added that “once the AI people have made their plan, it must still be programmed, compiled, debugged. Underpinning all of these is the skill of software engineering. There will always be a place for top designers, analysts and programmers.”
The awards dinner was a happy return for the 1986 gold medal winner, Gustav Mauer who attended with his wife Margaretha. Their daughter Christina (Gr 10, Durbanville High School) was the only female finalist. Gustav is a senior software development engineer in the IT industry at Amazon Web Services and remarked afterwards that “the industry… desperately needs more skilled developers”.
A key goal of the Programming Olympiad is to attract more young people to learn programming – an ability that is required not only in the IT industry, but in most occupations of the future.
Photographs available on request.
South Africa was the top programming team in Africa, finishing ahead of Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia in a computer programming contest, the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). South Africa was also the only African team to bring home IOI medals from Tehran. The three bronze medal winners, all now at UCT, were in Gr 12 last year. They are David Broodryk (Westerford), Yaseen Mowzer (Fairbairn) and Bronson Rudner (SACS).
Broodryk commented “Tehran is a city of friendly and intellectually curious people. Our guide Marzieh is a data scientist analyzing genes to help cure diseases. I went expecting a desert and found instead an oasis.”
“The questions” said Mowzer, “were tougher than the questions of previous years. It was a little disheartening to sit a five-hour contest and score what seemed like so few points, so slowly. However, after the contest, we realized that we performed well relative to the other contestants.”
Rudner reflected that he “felt extremely honoured to take part in the IOI in Tehran.” He added that “Iran was a wonderful host and while the questions proved tougher this year, I feel the team persevered and achieved remarkable results, and I am proud to have been awarded a bronze medal for South Africa.”
The Manager of the SA Computer Olympiad, Michael Cameron, acknowledged “the outstanding voluntary leadership of UCT Science undergraduate student, Robin Visser for his work in training the team. Visser was an IOI bronze medal winner in 2015 in Kazakhstan, and IOI Deputy Team Leader in 2016 and 2017. “Robin put together the training, the contests and the evaluation system. In this, he was supported by Laurens Weyn (2016 Russian IOI SA team member).
One of the four team members, Ralph McDougall, who had just returned from the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) in Rio de Janeiro in the previous week said “I love problem solving… it’s very satisfying to see how to make progress on difficult problems and get closer to the best solution.” He added that “IMO and IOI are great ways to challenge yourself with intense maths and programming problems. It was an amazing experience to represent my country on the world stage. Although changing time zones every week can get a bit irritating, I enjoy competing with others who love problem solving. It’s very enriching to see how people from different countries and cultures approach problems and how they train to do better. Germany selects on talent and people are expected to better themselves in their free time. Nigeria has intense training to do better and selects on improvement.”
McDougall is still in Grade 11 (Curro Durbanville) and could earn a place in the SA team to Japan in 2018. The first step for selection is Round One of the South African Computer Programming Olympiad, sponsored by Standard Bank. This free, one-hour online contest runs at schools at any time in the week Monday 14 to Friday 18 August. A school may enter the Programming Olympiad via the website www.olympiad.org.za, or by emailing the SA Computer Olympiad office on firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 021 448 7864 (08:00 – 16:00).