Will Code for Drinks @ Scrollbar, 2nd edition

On Friday 12 April, we ran another social coding event in the IT University of Copenhagen Friday bar ScrollBar. “We” is two colleagues (Martin Aumüller and Troels Bjerre Lund) and myself. This is the second time we try this, and it was a big success again. More than 50 teams participated, more than 40 solved at least 3 problems(!), and two of the ITU student teams solved 5 problems(!). The atmosphere was just great. Scrollbar was filled with teams of people gathered around laptops, paper, and drinks – typing, laughing, smiling, arguing, drinking, fist-pumping, thinking, and snogging.

The target audience is 1st years students on ITU’s various programmes, and that audience has matured a lot since the Fall. We decided to make the selection of problems a lot harder, with 6 problems (compared to 4 in the Fall), one of them pretty challenging.

We used the Kattis problem to host the event, using publicly available problems. The even site is https://open.kattis.com/contests/fwmxyb, and the problems were Križaljka, Pig Latin,Opening Ceremony, Datum, Entering the Time, and Worst Weather Ever.

In the organising group, we spend a lot of time on problem selection, and I’m again very happy with the resulting set. All the problems were immediately appealing, as well as easy to debug locally. (You can quickly make your own inputs for many of them, and verify your implementation’s answer with your own eyes.) Most of these problems require zero algorithmic insight at all and can be solved in interpreted Python 3 within the time limit. For one problem you need to sort, and another uses binary search. Except for one problem, all were easy-to-medium and don’t involve a lot of code. (My own solutions require 3, 9, 15, 15, 43, and 45 lines of python code.) For most of the problems, it’s clear “what to do,” but there are still some design choices to make, a lot of edge cases to avoid or handle, and a tiny bit of problem solving.

After a lot of soul-searching, we added a single hard problem, F, in order to keep even the experts among the audience busy – the event was graced by the presence of some very, very experienced competitive programmers. There was some good-natured sniping among these groups: the expected presence of an expert team from Sweden led to the creation of a Danish-German team of ITU employees named for Ulrik Gyldenløve, who fought victoriously against the Swedes in 17th century.

Scoreboard Hacking

To maintain the social aspect of the event, we decided to stick with a common scoreboard projected against the wall of the bar. It provides some kind of shared visual presence even for the non-coding guests at the bar. For this, we managed to implement one of the ideas from the Fall: the non-competitive ordering.

Here’s how the final standings of the event look using the standard Kattis scoreboard:

The standard Kattis scoreboard is sorted by number of solved problems; ties are broken on total time; the board also shows failed attempts.

We worry a lot about de-emphasizing the competitive aspect of the event, which lead us to rethink the scoreboard design. “Our” event is about people working in teams and solving problems. Once this is realised, the the information design is clear. We don’t want the board to include the team rank, or various timings, nor the documentation of failure. Instead, the board is about teams and solved problems, as well as the overall timer.

The transformed Will Code for Drinks-scoreboard.

“Our” board is sorted by most recent solve, so that every team gets a brief moment at the top. Team members could proudly walk up to the bar, announce their team name which was shown at the top of the score board, and receive their free drink. This worked spectacularly; people were sooo happy.

Hiding the unwanted table rows and re-ordering the board required nontrivial javascript-hacking using the Tampermonkey userscript manager in the Firefox web browser, mostly done by Tobias Christiani. (We discussed other ways of implementing the idea, but this one turned out to be easiest and least intrusive.) While we were at it, we changed some of the CSS style information to keep the design in sync with ScrollBar’s visual identity. It looks nicer, and it is nicer than the original.

Next event?

The next Will Code for Drinks will certainly happen in the Fall of 2019. I remain frustrated about how hard it is to attract inexperienced programmers – my ambition is to make 1st-year students aware of how much they can already do with their skill set. Martin, Troels, and I do provide help with problem solving and debugging, wearing silly hats. This works well for those inexperienced programmers who actually show up to the event, but I would like there to be more than a few handful of those.

One idea is to arrange a separate event specifically aimed at 1st-semester students, and advertise it directly to that population. “Will Hello World for Drinks?” in October, only 1st year students can register, lots of TA support? Followed by standard “Will Code for Drinks” for everybody in late November? Or is this exactly wrong because of the separation? Talk to me if you have an idea. Buy me a beer first.

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