Nhan Nguyen is an international, second-year computer game design student and founder and president of the Slug Competitive Programming (SlugCP) Club. He’s been heavily involved in competitive programming and led the efforts, under the mentorship of Distinguished Professor Darrell Long, in establishing UCSC student presence at the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). After graduation, Nguyen plans to pursue a career in game design or game programming.
Tell me a little bit about why you chose to study computer game design.
Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed playing all types of video games. In 9th grade, I started learning how to code. With a passion for video games and an interest in coding, I wanted to find a way to blend those two together, which ultimately led me to pursue a degree in game design.
What has your experience been like so far at the Baskin School of Engineering?
It’s been great. I’ve learned so much in the two years I’ve been at UC Santa Cruz. Professor Darrell Long has been a great mentor and has played a big role in helping my team members in the Slug Competitive Programming (SlugCP) Club and I enter the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC)—a dream of mine since high school.
You’ve been involved in competitive programming for a while now. What is competitive programming and what got you interested in the field?
Competitive programming is similar to Esports, where you compete with each other, but instead of competing in a sports game, you are solving coding problems. The faster you solve problems and the more problems you solve, the higher you score. The problems vary in complexity and tend to get more difficult as you continue.
One of my best friends, who is heavily involved in competitive programming, first introduced me to this field. He presented a coding problem to me that I couldn’t solve. After he presented the solution, I was instantly determined to keep practicing. It’s so satisfying when you find the solution to a complex coding problem.
What was your experience like forming the Slug Competitive Programming (SlugCP) Club at UCSC and gathering interest in the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC)?
Well, first a little bit of backstory. Back when I started at UCSC, I made a goal for myself to compete in the ICPC, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I noticed there wasn’t a club or any kind of UCSC student involvement in the ICPC before. I decided to create a club to introduce UCSC students to the concept of competitive programming. It was difficult at first to get the word out about this new club. Once I posted about the club online, I started getting more interest. We started training right away. It was definitely a team effort to establish the club’s presence on campus and begin UCSC involvement at the ICPC.
Many of the members who joined were new to the concept of competitive programming. I held practice sessions and taught people about a popular competitive programming platform. We would find archived coding problems that were used in previous years at the ICPC and practice solving them by running contests each week.
Tell me about the ICPC and what it was like competing in the competition for the first time.
We had four teams of three compete in this year’s ICPC. Because we are new to the contest, we competed in Division II of the Pacific Northwest Regional Competition. Only finalists of Division I are able to compete in the world championship. We competed with teams from Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington. It was a one day event, where we were solving problems in five-hour time spans. It was very fun working together in teams of three to solve a problem.
I'm happy to share that three of our four UCSC teams placed in the top 10, with the other team placing a respectable 25th place out of more than 70 teams.
Do you have any other goals that you’d like to reach before you graduate?
After accomplishing my first goal of competing in the ICPC, my next goal is to get one of our teams strong enough to compete in Division I. Another goal is to work on a few gaming projects on my own time to help build my resume when I look for a job in industry after graduation. I’d like to become a game designer or programmer. After I graduate, I want to maintain connections with the SlugCP Club and continue supporting student efforts in ICPC competition.
Interview Date: April 15, 2022