Vitaly is a prize-winner of the Balkan Computing Olympiad that took place in the Romanian city of Timisoara in July 2018 and a student of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He used to attend our Youth Center “Fakel" in Balti where he liked spending time with his friends.  

Vitaly gives credit for his medal and diploma in the Balkan Olympiad to a daily work. Photo: Yakov Gasan

 

In August 2018, Vitaly gave interview to the newspaper SP from Balti where he shared his experiences about the Olympiad, his love for the computer science, and mentioned Munchkin, a table game that he used to play when he attended our Youth Center “Fakel” in Balti. 

With regards to my “real" life, I can point out the board games. The same as in Timisoara, here we get together with the guys and play “nastolki” (“board games”). We love “Munchkin” (a card game), in particular.

We are glad to see that Vitaly took interest in this game and thankful for the time he spent with his friends at Fakel. We wish him every bit of success and hope to re-connect next time he is in Balti.

Original interview to SP can be found here: Бельчанин — призёр Балканской олимпиады по информатике: «Такой уровень — это уже не шутки» [in Russian]. We offer you the English translation below:


A teenager from Balti is a prize-winner of the Balkan Computing Olympiad: “This level is no longer a joke"

49 students from 13 countries participated in the Balkan Computing Olympiad “BOI 2018" which took place in Romanian city of Timisoara. Two students from the Moldovan team won bronze, among them a graduate of the Balti Lomonosov Lyceum Vitaly Pirau. “SP" talked with Vitaly about “his life as computer science”.

BY COINCIDENCE

– At the Country Computing Olympiad, according to their procedures, half of the participants receive medals. This year there were 3 first places, 6 second, 9 third and 12 other rewards. I received a second–degree award, ranking sixth in the overall ranking. The first two winners who were from the capital [Chisinau], some very strong rivals, chose to participate in the Mathematics Olympiad, so our team at the International Olympiad was formed from the third place in the overall rating to the sixth, and I got included.

We were invited to a some kind of a training center. As a newcomer, I lived in a hotel (the other three guys were from the lyceum of Chisinau. – “SP”). One of the teachers, Marcel Bezdrygin, was our trainer.

THE WEEK OF WORK AND REST

– Then there was a flight to Timisoara. First, we flew to Bucharest where we changed planes, then our final flight. The Olympiad took place from July 7 to 13. On the first day we had a rest, didn’t do anything, just waiting for the arrival of the rest of the teams. We took pictures, settled in. We stayed in a hotel, two guests in a room. It’s good that they paired up people who knew each other. A guy from our team was my roommate, we have known each other for several years. He is hooked on a computer science like me, so we had something common to talk about.

On the second day, they started preparing us for the Olympiad. We were given the tests that we had to solve no matter what. These tests were given in purpose so that we could learn how to work with the “system”, to understand the typology of the tasks, how the programs worked, etc. Each participant had their own account in the system. At the same day, there was an opening ceremony. On the third day, which was already July 9, Monday, the first stage of the competition began. We had to solve three problems in the five hours of allotted time. We began earning points towards our ranking. On Tuesday, we were given a break and had a tour around the park near Timisoara.

On the fifth day, we got busy again: the competition, new tasks, earning points. The results were summed up by the system that calculated the total number of points for two days and generated reports. The next day we received the awards. After the ceremony, somewhat early in the morning, we flew home.

As per results of the Balkan Olympiad, I took the 25th place in the overall rating. Basically, I was content with that because, first of all, I went there for the experience, new emotions (The second bronze medalist from Moldova, Christian Vishanu, scored 56 points less and took the 29th place in the ranking. – “SP”)

FROM PHYSICS TO COMPUTER SCIENCE

– Some time ago, when I was young and didn’t have to shave, I developed passion for physics. I was completely taken over by this subject in my 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. In the 7th grade, I even got the 3rd place at the Country Olympiad. In the 10th grade, my “passion” cooled off a little. Of course, I continued to win awards, but I had a new hobby which I am still a big fond of. It was computer science. See, in physics, you needed practice and I didn’t like experiments, so this is where I failed a bit when working on the practical tasks at the Country Olympiad in the 7th grade. Surprisingly, many other people loved practice more than theory, on the other hand. For me though, a computer science was like a fantasy flight, freedom in action. If you wanted to grow and move forward all you needed was to write, while in physics you needed practice.

My interest in computer science was also stimulated by my teacher Yuri Kirillovich Rotari. He often stayed after school for the extra classes where my classmates and I were solving more serious tasks. He gave us home assignments, we could approach him with any question without a problem, and he was always open to his curious students.  My first goal was to win at the City Olympiad, that’s what my teacher and I dreamed about. He himself has repeatedly said that he places his hopes on me. I reached that milestone. Then I won the northern region. Next was the country level. I went there just for the experience, although the results were pleasing – I took the second place.

EVERYDAY OLYMPIAD FOR YOURSELF

– After these results, I realized that it was time for self-studying. Because now there were moments when I came to the teacher with a problem, and he could not answer my question. I had to solve some other problems without any help at all. I cannot underestimate the role of a teacher, but if you are entering the country level and go further, you have to work a lot yourself. So, there you go, work, study…

So, I began to self-study. The Internet is full of information, different tasks, courses, although you often have to pay for the latter. As I keep saying, when people ask me “How did you win the Olympiad?”, I am answering that I had the Olympiad every day. I would sit down, get the task, begin working… I even found platforms with the mockup competitions.

Perhaps that is why I felt confident when went to the Olympiads. Working on yourself always brings results. In the 10th and 11th grades I was floating somewhere in the second half of the ranking at the Country Olympiads, but this year I managed to rise to the sixth line. At that moment I did not think about anything else, the most important was to see my growth, my progress.

After the Country Olympiad I got the letter. I didn’t even believe it at first, I double-checked a few times, called to Chisinau. It was an invitation to Timisoara. This time I started preparing seriously; this level was no longer a joke. Then, I had classes in Chisinau with the teacher who trained us and explained certain moments. We even played a game where he called a random number and we had to solve a problem under that number. I often stayed up late – I was the only non-local and didn’t want to stay at the hotel. Then we went to the Moldovan State University and I stayed after lessons, solved problems, read and watched videos. So, if you want to learn something – you can do it without a problem because all books, textbooks, an opportunity to practice are all out there.

SUCCESSFULLY PASSED ENTRANCE EXAMS

– I got accepted to the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) to the Applied Mathematics and Computer Science program. I also considered the option of studying in Romania, but I was more comfortable to study and work in my own language so that was a decisive factor for me.  Why did I choose MIPT? Well, I have been looking at the universities for a long time and got particularly interested in the intensive studies at this university. Also, it mattered that MIPT was among the top-ranking universities in Russia. I watched the teachers giving lectures at this university, participated in the Olympiads by this university (which were held in Chisinau), so, I had heard a lot about it even before when I had to choose. The organizers of the Olympiad suggested that I try to apply. I got the contact info, wrote to them, and then passed the entrance exams which I successfully passed.

In the future I hope to get something more than a bachelor’s degree (the first level of higher education in Russia). I am thinking about the master’s. I like the role of a researcher. I would like to do be involved not only in a practical work, but also research. The only thing I know for sure is that I will be working in the field of computer science which will be my specialization. This is very relevant to our days, it’s interesting. We live in the information age after all.

ABOUT INTERESTS AND PROSPECTS

– In the past few years I have become interested in the topic of artificial intelligence and machine learning, I even happened to take courses on the Internet. I can’t say that I was able to create a full “artificial intelligence" but was able to make something simpler. I have been always wondering how these “behind the scenes” processes work. I also tried web-design and website development – not that I was involved in any major projects but managed to make some money out of it.

With regards to my “real" life, I can point out the board games. The same as in Timisoara, here we get together with the guys and play “nastolki” (“board games”). We love “Munchkin” (a card game), in particular.

© Газета “СП” http://esp.md/podrobnosti/2018/08/27/belchanin-prizyor-balkanskoy-olimpiady-po-informatike-takoy-uroven-eto-uzhe

A billboard in Balti depicting Vitaly and his team members. The board reads: “The City of Balti is proud".

We also asked Vitaly to tell us about his own experiences with Fakel and he shared his story. Here we are publishing it in a translation from Russian.

My history with Fakel [Youth Club “Fakel”] began when I was finishing Grade 12, as I recall. I got there by occasion, but the story is interesting. It just so happened that my friends and I who are members of the City Team for Computer Science, liked to play board games at the final nights at Olympiads. We played Munchkin, Dungeons and Dragons, and other board games. We wanted to play not just at Olympiads but there was no place for us to do it. Then we used to get together at someone’s place but that was also difficult. I used to live around Fakel and often passed by it. So I remember how I walked by their building and noticed a sign on their door which read “Munchkin Tournament".

I missed that tournament however but checked back next time. Serghei [Club’s instructor] was inside the Club and we started talking about Munchkin. Or perhaps, I asked him if they played Munchkin there and needed people (I knew enough people who were interested in Munchkin). Then we started talking about the Club and he [Serghei] told me about all Club’s activities. I was not too excited at that time as I was preparing for my exams, the Olympiad and the MIPT [Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology]. But we agreed that my friends and I would pop by at the Club to play board games as we had no other place. Later, I also brought Dungeons and Dragons to the Club and guys really liked it (they even asked me to setup a tournament if I was back). But anyway, so much for the board games, the Club is not just run on them.

I remember how I talked about the Olympiad in Computer Science with Serghei once. I do not remember all the details, but he mentioned that if there were more people interested and there were more computers, they could organize something like a Computer Science school. I myself was excited about doing something like that in Balti too, because we didn’t see our students winning too often, particularly in the computer science. Perhaps, if I joined Fakel at the beginning of my Grade 11, when I already had experience and like-minded friends around, I would have started doing something. Even now, when I am back to Balti, I want to do something – something short, maybe even for five days or so, maybe some after school classes or something – but I am just too tied up with my exams [here Vitaly is talking about an idea of sharing some of his computer science knowledge at Fakel which we asked him about].

Anyway, I got carried away. The way I see it, Fakel has a very good foundation for organizing nice activities for students and not only. Perhaps, these youth clubs are the only base for something like that. There are no other places to organize these kind of activities. It’s probably a good idea to invest in all kinds of board games or sports items, too, because, well, this is not a formal school, the youth go there to hang out (this is my personal observation, but I could be wrong). Basically, Fakel, as I have noticed, was organic, in the sense that its structure and organization were good. We played enough but we also had some useful things like debates [The Debate Club] or volunteering, too.

Again, to me personally, Fakel was a place where I would just come to hang out (frankly speaking), because there were always people and activities there. I liked creating adventures for the Dungeons and Dragons, I liked Ceramics classes and etc. (my history with Fakel was not too long, so I cannot tell much).

Fakel was (and probably still is) the only vibrant Club in the city. I think places like this should exist, because they gather young people around. It is not even too important to have something purely educational as this is not the main point. See, I used to come to Fakel simply to hang out – basically, like other of my friends. Probably, it is more important to focus on practical, more useful things for young people. For instance, the same Olympiad school, or just learning to play the guitar, to learn how to draw or make websites.

The main thing, I think, is not to overdo it, since guys still go there to hang out. I am not quite sure. But I miss Fakel sometimes, it was nice to just hang out there, even when we weren’t playing. Fakel is also a place to make new friends, meet interesting people, and no one can deny it.

The bottom line is, it’s important to just support such clubs, I think. And the guys will figure out what to do there by themselves (see, I could come up with a couple of ideas myself, although too late which I regret). Well, young people will always welcome anything that came out as their own idea.

January 3, 2019