Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

“Beauty of Programming”—delighting in the art of coding

“Beauty of Programming”—delighting in the art of coding

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2014 Beauty of Programming contest

What is the “beauty of programming”? In our eyes, it is the act of creating a program that is in itself beautiful—a program that uses sophisticated algorithms to solve real problems, meeting the user’s needs while ensuring the best experience in the least amount of time.

Every spring for the past three years, aspiring young programmers in China have had the chance to explore this coding ideal though Microsoft’s and IEEE’s annual Beauty of Programming (BOP) contest. Part of our ongoing effort to inspire future IT leaders, the 2014 BOP event drew more than 18,000 talented contestants and generated a wealth of innovative programs.

The contest finalists gathered in Microsoft Research Asia’s sky garden.
The contest finalists gathered in Microsoft Research Asia’s sky garden.

Throughout the year, Microsoft Research Asia representatives visit numerous university campuses to showcase our latest technology and, coincidentally, to promote the BOP contest. This spring, we visited 21 schools in 12 cities throughout China, motivating young computer programmers to enter the contest and demonstrate their extraordinary skills. The 18,000 contestants in the 2014 BOP contest represented 150 universities and, for the first time, included students from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

This year’s BOP event introduced a new, more efficient way to judge the contestants’ programming skills. Instead of relying on Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) contest forms, as we had in the past, we evaluated the contestants during the early rounds by using Code Hunt, an online game that challenges contestants to demonstrate their coding skills while solving intriguing puzzles.

Two contestants (left) explain their demo to a researcher (right).
Two contestants (left) explain their demo to a researcher (right).

The event started with a qualification round, followed by a preliminary round, a three-hour semifinal round, and then a final round. Fifty-six students, representing 25 universities, made it to the final round, where they undertook an urban informatics challenge designed by Microsoft researchers in collaboration with City Next, the Bing Maps team, and the Microsoft Azure team. This challenge was extremely timely, as urban informatics has attracted much attention recently. The young finalists had a choice between creating an urban analytics application based on real-word data from the city of Yangzhou or forecasting the mid-afternoon air quality index based on historical and current air quality and meteorological information.

Jonathan Tien of Microsoft Research Asia, center, is flanked by first-place winners Xiangyan Sun (left) and Shan Wang (right).
Jonathan Tien of Microsoft Research Asia, center, is flanked by first-place winners Xiangyan Sun (left) and Shan Wang (right).

Xiangyan Sun from Fudan University in Shanghai and Shan Wang from Tsinghua University in Beijing earned first place. Working as a pair, they used historical, four-hour air quality data, along with temperature and meteorological information, to forecast a twelve-hour air quality index using support vector machine (SVM) classifier technology. Sun enthusiastically spoke about the impact of the BOP event. “I felt really happy during the contest and excited to be coding under a 12-hour deadline, while enjoying the experience of pair programming. Many thanks to Microsoft for providing such an invaluable opportunity.”

Although the 2014 Beauty of Programming contest has ended, the contestants’ passion for computer programming remains, as do opportunities for those nine students who received awards during the event. These talented young people will be eligible for Microsoft internships—a win-win outcome, in that Microsoft can benefit from the expertise and enthusiasm of these aspiring young IT developers, while the students receive opportunities to work on innovative projects and further experience the beauty of programming.

Beauty of Programming 2014 contestants and event organizers from IEEE and Microsoft
Beauty of Programming 2014 contestants and event organizers from IEEE and Microsoft

We at Microsoft Research are delighted to have co-sponsored of the BOP 2014 contest and to have witnessed the talented participants’ sophisticated algorithms on urban informatics. The passion and potential exhibited by these enthusiastic contestants will inspire and motivate Microsoft and the BOP contest well into the future.

Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia
Xin Zou, Principal Development Manager, Bing

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