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 “Torch" 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 local newspaper “SP" in 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 “Torch” 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 are thankful for the time he spent with his friends at the Club. We wish him every bit of success and hope to re-connect next time he is in Balti.

The original interview to the “SP" newspaper can be found here: Бельчанин — призёр Балканской олимпиады по информатике: «Такой уровень — это уже не шутки» [in Russian]. We include 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 the 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 score. 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 flights, and then there was a flight ti the final destination. The Olympiad took place from July 7 to 13. On the first day we had rest, didn’t do anything, we were just waiting for the other teams to arrive. We settled in, took pictures. We stayed in a hotel, two guests in a room. It’s good that they paired everybody 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 too, so we had something common to talk about.

On the second day, they started preparing us for the Olympiad. We were given tests that had to be solved. They gave those tests on purpose so that we could learn how to work with the “system”, so to understand the typology of the tasks, how 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 on Monday, July 9, the first stage of the competition had began. We were supposed to solve three problems in the five hours within allotted time. That's how we began earning points towards our score. On Tuesday, we were given break and had a tour around a park near Timisoara.

On the fifth day, we got involved again: the competition, new tasks, earning points. The results were summed up automatically where the total number of the points was calculated for two days. They produced reports and the next day we received awards. After the ceremony, somewhat early in the morning, we flew back home.

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

FROM PHYSICS TO COMPUTER SCIENCE

– Some time ago, when I was young and didn’t have to shave, I developed passion for the Physics. I was completely taken over by this field from Grade 7 to Grade 9. In Grade 7, I even won the 3rd place at the National Olympiad. In Grade 10, my “passion” cooled a little. Of course, I kept winning awards in Physics but I developed a new interest which I still like very much. It was a Computer Science. See, in Physics, you need practice and I didn’t like experiments, so this is where I failed somewhat when I had to do some experimental tasks at the National Olympiad in Grade 7. Surprisingly, many other people loved experiments more than theory. But for me though, the Computer Science was a fantasy flight, freedom in action. If you wanted to grow and move forward, all you needed was to code while in Physics you had to have some practice.

I was also encouraged to take interest in Computer Science by my teacher Yuri Kirillovich Rotari. He often stayed after school for some extra time where my classmates and I could practice on more serious questions. He gave us home assignments and we could come to him with any question freely; he was always open to his eager students. My first goal was to win at the City Olympiad. That was what my teacher and I really wanted. He himself said many times that he put a lot of hope in me. And I did it. Then I took the Northern region. Next was the Country level. I went there just for the experience although results were pleasing – I won the second place.

EVERYDAY OLYMPIAD FOR YOURSELF

– After those victories, I realized that it was time for me to self-study. There were times when I would come to our teacher with a problem and he could not answer my question. So I had to solve problems without any help. I would not undermine the role of a teacher but if you are entering the Country level and want to go even further, you have to do a lot by yourself, as well. So, yes, to work and study.

So, I started self-studying. There is a lot of information on the Internet, there are different tasks, courses, although you often have to pay for them. When people ask me “How did you win the Olympiad?”, I keep  answering that I had to go through an Olympiad every day. I would sit down, get a task and start working on it… I even found platforms with some mockup competitions.

So that's probably why I was confident when I went to the Olympiads. Working on yourself always brings good results. In the Grade 10 and 11, I was floating around second half of the score at the National Olympiads, but this year, I managed to go up to the sixth place. At that moment I did not think about anything else as the most important thing was to see my growth, my progress.

After the National Olympiad, I got the letter. It was an invitation to Timisoara. At first, I didn’t even believe it so I double checked it a few times, and even called to Chisinau. This time, I started preparing seriously; this level was no longer a joke. Then, I had practice with an instructor in Chisinau who trained us and explained certain aspects. We even played a game where he would call a random number and we had to solve a problem with that number. I often stayed up late as I was the only person outside of Chisinau and I didn’t want to stay at the hotel. Then we went to the Moldovan State University and I stayed after training, I solved problems, did readings and watched videos. See, if you want to learn something, you can absolutely do it because all the books and textbooks, every opportunity to practice – are all out there.

SUCCESSFULLY PASSED ENTRANCE EXAMS

– I got accepted to the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) for the Applied Mathematics and Computer Science program. I also considered an 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 the MIPT? Well, I have been searching universities for a long time and I got particularly interested in the intensive studies at that university [MIPT]. Also, MIPT was among the top-ranking universities in Russia and that mattered to me. I observed teachers from that university giving instructions at the Olympiads [in Chisinau), so I had my opinion well before I had to choose between schools. The Olympiad organizers suggested that I try to apply. I got the contact info, sent a letter, and then passed the exams.

Down the road, I hope to go past bachelor’s degree [the first level of higher education in Russia]. I am thinking about master’s. I like the role of a researcher. I would like to be involved not only in some practical work but also the research. The only thing I know for sure is that I would like to be working in the field of the Computer Science which would be my specialization. This is very relevant today and it’s interesting. We live in an information age, after all.

ABOUT INTERESTS AND PROSPECTS

– In the past few years, I have become interested in the Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, and I even had chance to take courses on the Internet. I can’t say I was able to create a full Artificial Intellect but I was able to make something simpler. I have been always wondering how these processes “behind the scenes” work. I also tried web-design and website development – not that I was involved in any major projects or anything – but I was able to earn some income out of it.

With regards to my “other" life, I can point to 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 the Club and he shared his story. This is a translation of his story from Russian.

“My history with the Club [Youth Club “Torch”] began when I was finishing Grade 12, as I can recall. I got there by chance and that was quite interesting. It just happened that my friends and I who were members of the City Team for the Computer Science liked to play the board games before the Olympiads [Olympiad games]. We played Munchkin, Dungeons and Dragons, and some other board games. We would have played it at some other place, not just at Olympiads, but there was no such a place for us, in fact. We tried to get together at someone's place but it was difficult to do. I used to live around “Torch" and often walked by it. So I remember how I was walking by them at some day and I noticed a sign “Munchkin Tournament" on their door. It got my attention.

Although I missed that tournament, I came back there when I had a chance. Serghei [Club’s instructor] was inside the Club and we started talking about Munchkin. Or, probably, I asked him if they played Munchkin and needed people (I knew enough people who were interested in Munchkin). Anyway, we started talking about the Club and he [Serghei] told me about all Club’s activities. I was not too excited at that point as I was preparing for my exams, for the Olympiad and applying for the MIPT [Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology]. But we agreed that my friends and I could stop by at the Club to play the board games as we did not have 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 upon my return). But games are games; the Club was so much more.

I remember how we talked about the Computer Science Olympiad with Serghei some other day. I do not remember all the details but he did mention that if there were more interested people and more computers, they could organize something like a Computer Science school. I got excited myself about doing something like that in Balti too, because we didn’t see our students to win too often, particularly in the computer science field. Perhaps, if I joined the “Torch" when I began Grade 11, meaning, when I already had experience and like-minded friends, I would have started doing something like that. Even now, every time I am back to Balti, I want to do something – for instance, a short training, maybe for five days or so, or some after school classes or something else – only if I were not busy with my exams [here Vitaly is talking about an idea of sharing some of his computer science knowledge with the other guys at the “Torch" – the idea which we asked him about].

Anyway, I got carried away. The way I see it, the “Torch" has a very good foundation for organizing some  activities for students and not only. Perhaps, these youth clubs are the only ground for something like that. There are simply no other places to do that. 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, guys come here to hang out (this is my personal opinion, says Vitaly, I could be wrong). Basically, the “Torch", as I have noticed, was organic, in the sense that its structure and organization were good. We played a lot but we also had some useful things to do like debates [The Debate Club] or volunteering, too.

Again, to me personally, the “Torch" 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 the “Torch" was not too long, so I cannot tell much, says Vitaly).

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

The main thing, as I see it, is not overdo it since guys still come here to hang out. I am not quite sure. But I miss the “Torch" sometimes; it was nice to just hang out there, even when we weren't playing. The “Torch" is also a place to make new friends, to meet interesting people, and that's something no one can deny.

Having said all this, it’s just important to support such clubs, I think. And guys will figure it out what to do there by themselves (see, I could have come up with a couple of ideas too, except it was too late which I regret now). Anyway, young people would always welcome anything that comes out as a good idea."

January 3, 2019