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Elizabeth Wittliff

Elizabeth Wittliff

Elizabeth Wittliff is a junior Computer Science major from Richardson, Texas. She currently works in the Dean’s Office in the School of Engineering and Computer Science as a part-time student worker. She is passionate about workplace diversity and disability awareness issues.

Marrakech, Morocco is the home of the 2015 Association for Computing Machinery-International Collegiate Programming Competition (ACM-ICPC) World Finals. The event and competition are sponsored by IBM and headquartered at Baylor University in Waco. Mohammed V University, Al Akhawayn University, and Mundiapolis University host this year’s competition. This year, 128 teams of three and their coaches from universities all over the world competed for the title of World Champions.

“The contest fosters creativity, teamwork, and innovation in building new software programs, and enables students to test their ability to perform under pressure. Quite simply, it is the oldest, largest, and most prestigious programming contest in the world."

Since IBM’s sponsorship of the event in 1997, participation in the ICPC has grown 1500%. The increase in participation allows for more diversity among teams, especially for female students. This year, of the 384 contestants, nine are female, a record breaking number compared to previous years.

Female students in computer science have been involved in regional competitions, but only recently have they started coming to the World Finals. This year as I weaved patterns around the contestants while I marshaled the contest, I counted a total of nine female contestants, including one team from the Middle East that is composed of two females and one male. While leveling the male to female ratio is still a struggle for many STEM fields, it is encouraging to see women take a seat among the best in the world.

Female coaches and leadership members should not be an oddity at the ICPC. They act as a beacon of encouragement for female students and show support to these ladies in computer science. Their presence communicates that women can compete and can be some of the best programmers in the world. Several leadership members from UPE and IBM at this year’s World Finals are females. IBM even included a segment in their TechTreck for girls who want to code. TechTrek is a time for IBM to share the latest computing technology with the students. IBM has noticed the growth of female involvement, and is working to encourage more girls to participate in regional competitions.

My time in Marrakech has been filled with excitement and cultural diversity. Even where language was a barrier between the teams and coaches that I met, everybody at that competition spoke C++ and had a passion for programming. I was able to talk to a variety of people in industry, from consultants at IBM to Alexander Wolf, president of ACM. One thing I found to be true is that no matter the number of languages, cultures, students and volunteers involved, AMC-ICPC is a family, and the friendly farewell of “See you next year!" is evidence of that.