UVic students win BattleSnake competition against local tech companies

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UVic students Joe Czepil, Jakob Roberts, Mitchell Rivett, Miles Barr, and Rafat Mahmud tested 35 versions of their software before their competition. Provided photo

Almost 100 tech enthusiasts battled for programming supremacy at UVic during the second BattleSnake competition, held on Feb. 21. Competing with students and tech companies alike, a group of five UVic students took first place, winning $500 in the process.

Hosted by Sendwithus—a Victoria company that automates transactional emails—BattleSnake is a programming competition influenced by the ’70s arcade game, Snake. In the original game, a player must guide the snake around the board eating food and avoiding the snake’s tail. The more food you eat, the longer the snake’s tail, and the more difficult the game.

Similar to the original game, BattleSnake competitors were tasked with programming an artificial intelligence that could perform the tasks of the original game, while avoiding other snakes on the board. If two snakes met head to head, the one with the smaller tail would be consumed.

While the competitors were mostly student teams, the competition was open to anyone, including Victoria-based tech groups. Six tech companies, including Metalab, TinyMob Games, and CheckFront, were also in the running; however, out of the company teams, only the Pretio Interactive team made it to the top four.

Rafat Mahmud, a second-year software engineering student, was among the winning team. On their victory, he said, “We tested a lot. We had 35 versions of the software [beforehand].”

The first BattleSnake competition was held at the Sendwithus office where only eight teams participated. With close to 100 competitors this time, Sendwithus co-founder Brad Van Vugt, said, “We wanted to host a hackathon, and we thought hackathons are getting kind of boring. They are so frequent now and a lot of them are more about the company that’s hosting, and less about the projects that are being hacked.”

Van Vugt stressed that they host the event in order to promote a healthy tech culture within Victoria. “We wanted to put on the hackathon that we wanted to participate in,” he said. Sendwithus co-ordinated with the Computer Science Course Union and the Web Development and Web Design club at UVic to hold the event. Van Vugt said, “What you learn in the class is so disconnected from what real tech actually looks like. So this is a fun interesting way to put real tech in front of students.”

The competition was also sponsored by two Silicon Valley tech giants: Dropbox, a file hosting service, and Heroku, a cloud platform service that supports multiple programming languages. Both companies’ services were utilized by competitors, while Heroku also provided the $1000 prize pool.

Van Vugt said there are ample opportunities for graduating students given the rapidly growing tech industry in Victoria, but that they are not always well advertised. Competitions like BattleSnake are meant to solve that.

“We think of it as community building,” he said. “The more students we have being introduced to start up tech, the more everybody wins.”

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