This is an interview with Samurdhi Karunarathne (Team Captain), Gihan Jayatilaka and Harshana Weligampola, who became the country first in IEEEXtreme 10.0 and became sixty second in global leaderboard. IEEEXtreme is a 24 hour coding competition, organised by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), with the participation of teams from all around the world.
- How did team “BiteCode” came into being?
(Samurdhi) We knew each other, since the Advanced Levels. In fact Gihan and I were in the same school. After joining the university, we found a common interest in algorithm programing and started practicing and coding together. We thought of participating in ACES Coders (ACES – Association of Computer Engineering Students – Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya) and IEEEXtream with victory in mind. We named ourselves BiteCode because Java is compiled to bytecode and we shifted “y” to a “i” to imply biting the code.
- You made a huge breakthrough, becoming the country first in IEEEXtreme 10.0. How do you feel about this achievement and also ranking sixty second in in the world leaderboard?
(Samurdhi) We’ve been practicing for a long time. After evaluating our competitors from different universities, there was a genuine chance of reaching top three in Sri Lanka. But we always had a doubt. We coded for 24 hours straight without even breaking for supper. Hence this victory was definitely rewarding. World top 100 was an added bonus to our effort and we slipped from the top 50 in last few hours.
(Gihan) Yeah, but anyway, top 100 is really good enough.
- This sure wasn’t a path of roses for you I believe. Tell us something about the way you planned your work and about the extra effort and dedication you put in to face the challenges.
(Gihan) We had several challenges and the first of them was finding time to commit. In this type of competitions, the time and effort we put into practice, really counts. Hence we stayed at the department until 8 p.m. and in the last couple of months, till 10 or 11 p.m..
(Samurdhi) Nice thing was that neither of us had any kind of coding experience before joining the faculty. Hence we started from the scratch. And these guys still being in first year really made this achievement worthwhile. Everything is difficult when you initiate something, and building the talent in such a short time is really impressive. All that credit goes to these guys, specially for the work they put into it. I am really happy to be their guide to point them in the right direction and tell them what needs to be done to become experts in this field. What made us different in the competition was only the dedication, not the talent. Obviously, you need talent to win such a competition. But the difference was the hard work we put in. We worked harder and that brought us here.
- What are the other competitions that you participated in?
(Harshana) As a team we participated in ACM-ICPC, (Association for Computing Machinery – International Collegiate Programming Contest) recently held in India and before that, ACES Coders V6.0. We started at ACES Pre Coders.
(Samurdhi) We constantly participated for online contests such as Hackerrank contests individually to be in touch and it was an important part of the training process. Our success rate has been really good because we won the first three contests but we couldn’t perform well in ICPC. We really hope to do much more next year.
- As the captain of the team, how do you see your teammates?
(Samurdhi) Nice thing was that in all our contests we were able to contribute almost equally. In my first year, I did not have backup when I was not able. But with these guys, it’s totally different. And I know they’ll get through even after couple of hours when we divide problems. Happiest thing for me is to see that they are now blooming up and heading their way. I know they are very talented and what they only needed was guidance and I think I was able to help them in that way.
- Tell us about the support that you got from the third parties.
(Samurdhi) The biggest support was from Mr. Titus Nanda Kumara. We needed a place to practice. So Titus Aiya stayed up late, everyday, in the department to enable us to practice in there. And we are also grateful to Dr. Dhammika Elkaduwa for his support and specially in ACM-ICPC. He helped us a lot in migrating to India. And we have some friends who are Google employees. As the greatest thing you require is inspiration; someone to look up to, our gratitude must go to them as well, because that’s the level we are targeting to achieve.
- Your future plans as a team?
(Samurdhi) As for future plans as BiteCode, we are planning to participate in ACES Coders and IEEEXtereme in this year as well and try to retain our position. But as for our ultimate goal, it’s the ACM-ICPC contest, every other plans are focused on that because no Sri Lankan team has ever participated in world finals. Our ultimate goal is to take the University of Peradeniya to the world final level for the very first time.
- Any final remarks?
(Samurdhi) What we are lacking is people who are really passionate about this field. When you are not passionate about something, you are not going to love it and you will not try for the ultimate goal. I really hope that others will look up to the bar we have set for them, follow our footsteps and build up passion. You don’t need to be really smart in anything, you have to have some basis, and from there on you only need to have dedication and desire to win.
(Harshana) What they really need is inspiration. In IEEEXtreme, most teams participated were from Sri Lanka. (around 300) But they were lacking the inspiration and in last hours only few people coded.
(Gihan) First thing that you need to do is to find something you really passionate about. This is what we really are passionate about and then you have to put lots of hours to it and work hard. Finally, you will get something like this out of it definitely.
Interview by Kushan Dassanayake and Kavin Ranawella
Reported by Kushan Dassanayake