Two days are all that are needed to decide who will win gold, silver or bronze medals at the International Olympiad in Informatics. Both rounds will mimic the format of each other: start at 9am; finish at 2pm. 5 hours of absolute concentration, during which contestants will need to write programs to solve three algorithmic tasks. After the first competition day there will be a 24 hour break, before it’s back to the grindstone for the final round – another 3 tasks to solve in 5 hours. Winners will be decided by an automatic checking system, meaning that the final results of the Olympiad will be available straight after the second round is concluded. The machine results will be watched over by technicians, but it has yet to make a mistake.
Behind the scenes at the Olympiad
Work behind the scenes at International Olympiads is itself similar to an algorithm, with detailed instructions for each stage of proceedings. The Olympiad takes place in a country four years after its application to host the competition has been granted. Russia’s bid was approved in 2012. In that same year, the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) was held in Italy, before in following years making stops in Australia, Taiwan and Kazakhstan. So too Russia – the host for IOI 2016 – is not the final link in the chain, as in future years the tournament will visit Iran, Japan and Azerbaijan.
The Olympiad is under the immediate control of three committees. The International Committee (IC) is in charge of the general organisational and ensuring the competition runs smoothly. The International Scientific Committee (ISC) takes care of task preparation and the system that will check the answers. The technical side of things – developing the computer requirements, telecommunications infrastructure and the competition system – is handled by the International Technical Committee (ITC).
The President is responsible for everything
The Olympiad also has a president, chosen at the IOI General Assembly to hold the position for three years. Professor Krassimir Manev from Bulgaria has held the post of IOI President for two years, sat on the International Committee since 2001, and been involved in the school olympiad movement at national and international levels for more than 30 years. He worked at the University of Sofia for many years, and now teaches discrete mathematics and algorithmic theory at the New Bulgarian University.
He speaks excellent Russian and communicates freely in English. His knowledge of the local language proved useful to him in Kazan during the international inspection by representatives from the three IOI committees in mid-February. It is ultimately his responsibility that the competition meets the rules and standards expected of it.
In the area where the competition will be held, every little detail counts: lighting, air conditioning, seating arrangement, opportunities for rest and preparation,” explains Mr Manev during the tour of the competition building and accommodation.
This time the most talented school-age programmers in their respective countries will have the run of the Universiade Village – a student campus with a modern and stylish infrastructure. Built for the 2013 Summer Universiade, it now functions as a halls of residence for students at Kazan Federal University. The IOI International Committee and the government of the Russian Federation decided to award KFU the right to help organise the Olympiad. There will be no students at the Universiade Village come August – they will all be on holiday – so IOI guests and participants will have plenty of space.
“The rules state that every country may submit a team of four students, a team-leader and a deputy team-leader,” says Mr Manev. “Straight away we thought what a concentration of super-talented students there would be in the Universiade Village when all the competing countries arrive.
Mr Manev – the Kazan Olympiad will be the 28th such competition. Have there been any participants who have stood out to you over the years?
“Of course! Gennady Korotkevich from Belarus – what an absolute genius! He won gold at the IOI six years on the trot! After he left school he went to study at ITMO University in St Petersburg and became world champion in five prestigious competitive programming competitions while still a student. The competition environment is very helpful for developing talent. But of course it’s very difficult to compare today’s guys with those who competed way back in the 90s, when the International Olympiad movement was still in its infancy. Sure, the difficulty level of the tasks has changed, but the technique is also radically different. Now during the competition you can write a programme, launch it and test it. Doesn’t work? Then make some alterations. In the five hours you have to find the best solution, you can run a programme a huge number of times. Incidentally, don’t think that the IOI’s only goal is to find the best programmers. No, the primary goal of the IOI is to stimulate the participants who have shown a flare for computer science. We start looking for them as early as the 5th class. The IOI also acts as an incentive to develop IT at school level in different countries around the world. This is not without its challenges. In Bulgaria, for example, there is only 72 hours of taught computer science in 12 years of schooling! That’s two hours a week, studying for one year. And that’s it – just a drop in the ocean! And all the while, programmers are some of the most sought-after people in the world of work. During the crisis the demand has gone up, and in contrast to many other fields, wages are also on the rise. Which is more than you can say about salaries for IT teachers – there’s simply no comparison with programmer earnings. Granted, programmers, especially the really successful ones, are not going to work in schools, but there is still a massive demand for good teachers. There is much demand in the labour market for specialists in two areas: maths and computer science. It’s more convenient to construct a mathematical model and to programme it immediately. That’s plain for all to see.”
The international Olympiad in Informatics lasts for one week. As well as the two competition days, the schedule also includes the opening and closing ceremonies, IOI Scientific Conference, General Assembly meeting and excursion programme. Guests will visit the high-tech town of Innopolis, the island-town of Sviyazhsk, and Kazan’s theatres. KFU Rector Ilshat Gafurov and his team promise that guests will have several days to immerse themselves in the traditions of Tatarstan, learn about the republic and make themselves feel at home.
The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) is an annual informatics competition for schoolchildren. It first took place in Bulgaria in 1989. The IOI has a flag with a logo, an official website ioinformatics.org and a scientific journal included in the international database of peer-reviewed literature Scopus. An IOI theoretical and practical conference is also traditionally held during the Olympiad. This year the IOI will be held in Russia. The competition will run from 12 to 19 August in Kazan. The organisers of the Olympiad are the Ministry of Education and Science RF and the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications RF, the Ministry Information and Communication of the Republic of Tatarstan, and Kazan Federal University.
Andrei Pominov, First Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Tatarstan:
“The International Olympiad in Informatics is a much-awaited event. It’s a big responsibility, and, I must say, a well-earned one. From the perspective of using IT in education, the Republic of Tatarstan is one of the most progressive subjects of the Russian Federation. And, despite this, Tatarstan continues to develop IT technology at an incredible rate, with several software and hardware companies operating here. So too the town of Innopolis, created to continue this culture of IT infrastructure development, has an economy based on high-tech industry. This project requires a large number of first-class specialists. And the Olympiad, which will bring the brightest young minds in IT together in one place, is a chance for us to showcase the region as an attractive prospect for such people. Of course, an olympiad on an international scale is a massive boost to the education system and innovative activity. But it goes without saying: holding an olympiad is a serious responsibility. We have spent the past few years studiously learning from countries which have already held the competition. We have been to Kazakhstan, Taiwan and Italy, and will endeavour to hold the Olympiad at a level befitting of international standards. It will be a fantastic and unforgettable experience for all participants.