ICFPC '08 Thoughts

1. Funny things about our team

Our team consisted initially of 4 people:
- 2 guys in St.Petersburg: the guy, who've brought us together -- Yakov Zaytsev (lj:iakovz) -- choosing Erlang, and his friend with C++
- a pythonista in Omsk (Siberia, Russia)
- me with Common Lisp
(As distributed and polyglot, as you can get. Though, we consider Lisp to be our main language).

We had a training session with this roster...

When the contest began, there were (potentially) 6 of us: we were joined a friend of our Omsk teammate and Andrew Baine -- a Common Lisp hacker, who asked in the mailing list to join a Common Lisp team.

...And when we submitted, our final program consisted of 2 modules: a low-level Erlang one for maneuvering by Yakov and my high-level part for direction setting. Besides in the SCM there was a heap of C++ code (not integrated with ours), written by the Omsk guy, who appeared last. (I hadn't submit it for we didn't know, what was it all about)...

2. Communication

As for me, our main problem was communication (and, to some extend, leadership -- there was no outstanding authority among us to resolve all the disagreements): we couldn't agree on the division of tasks, so everyone virtually did, what he wanted, except for us with Yakov. Andrew tried to participate, but didn't succeed because of poor communication and big time difference, I think. We were Russian-speaking and prepared together and, moreover, he joined, when we've being already far in the discussion late at night. So, we didn't have enough time, to get him involved in the beginning, and on the next day it was even harder to start for him.

But with our pair it was also a funny story with communication: on the final evening we debugged Yakov's part in a somewhat "distributed" manner: he made a correction to his module, committed it to SVN, I checked it out, scp'ed to the machine with LiveCD, ran, caught errors popping in the console, wrote them to text file, scp'ed back to my notebook and sent to Yakov over Skype. This debugging session lasted for some 3 hours I think, and actually, I was able to submit some half-working code in the end. :) Such situation was caused by Yakov being at work with poor Internet connection, so he couldn't get hold of liveCD, and me being stupid enough not to think of running the client over the net...

But, from the technical viewpoint, Skype, actually, is as close to perfect as you can get for communication in such distributed groups.

3. Minimum set of tools

you would have needed for participating this year with a geo-distributed team:
* groupchat
* SCM on the net -- GoogleCode worked perfectly for us
* a separate PC to run liveCD

4. Task

This year's task is just a kind of a task to give students for their term paper in the course, that teaches basic programming and algorithms. From one perspective, it would teach you most of the things you need to know to start working in a professional group of programmers, and from the other it's sufficiently advanced to really learn something about algorithms. We've also tried the 2004's task -- Ants -- it's also similar in this sense, but is more suited for the Compiler course. Generally speaking, if I was a programming professor, I would have definitely used the materials from all the ICFP contests as such kinds of tasks.

5. What I lacked

I think, for me the best case would have been to have a team of 4-5 people, situated in at most 2 places (and big time difference between them would've been really helpful), and programming in at most 2 different langs, so that everyone had a supporting person to work on the code together. And, it would've been great if everyone knew both languages.


It was really a great experience, which I'd recommend to try at least once to anyone, who is fond of programming.
...And it's best, when you are in a well-prepared team :)

P.S. Our submission.

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