SWERC has essentially the same structure as the ACM ICPC contest, except that it takes place at the level of Southwestern Europe. The contest is fought between teams, each of which represents an institution from the region, i.e., a university, an engineering school, etc. Institutions choose the teams that they wish to send to SWERC; they cannot send more than a few teams, so they usually run an internal selection if too many students are interested.
Each team comprises three students from the institution. Each student must satisfy the eligibility requirements (see also team composition). The teams of each institution are accompanied by a coach, who serves as the person of contact for the institution: it is usually an older student or a member of faculty. The coach is the person who registers the teams (see registration), and usually organises their travel, hosting, etc.
The teams usually travel together with their coach to the contest venue on Friday. They come to register on Friday evening or Saturday morning, attend the opening ceremony, talks, meals, and social events. A mock contest is held on Saturday afternoon, and the actual contest takes place on Sunday (see the schedule). The teams usually leave on Monday or on Sunday evening after the awards ceremony.
At the start of the contest, the teams receive a printout of the problem statements. They have five hours to solve as many of these problems as possible. Each problem statement is written in English and describes a real-life situation that can be solved with algorithmic skill, e.g., finding the shortest route from one point to another in a city, computing the area of a polygon, etc. To solve the problem, the team must write a computer program that can give the correct answer to the challenge, using one of the official programming languages of the contest. The problem statement specifies the input and output format, some limits on the problem parameters (instance size, etc.), and limits on memory, running time, etc.
When a team thinks that they have solved a problem, they submit their program to an automated judging system for evaluation. The judging system tests the program on a secret set of inputs and outputs, and verifies that the program always returns the correct answer, without crashing, and respecting the running time and memory limitations. If the program passes the tests, the judge gives an ACCEPTED verdict, and the team has successfully solved the problem. Otherwise, the judge gives a verdict with some information about the issue (e.g., WRONG ANSWER when the program returns an incorrect answer on some test case, TIME LIMIT EXCEEDED if the program did not complete in the required time, RUNTIME ERROR if it crashed, etc.). In this case, the contestants have to identify the problem and fix it: they are not provided with more information about the cause of the error or the test case that triggers the error.
Each team competes on one single computer, which is provided by the contest organisers. The computer has no internet access. It features a compiler, several common programming environments, and the documentation of the official languages. The computer runs a GNU/Linux operating system; see environment for details. During the contest, the team members work together, but they cannot be helped by their coaches or by anyone from the outside; also, they cannot communicate with other teams. Teams members cannot use any electronic devices, but they may bring a paper reference document; see contest material for details.
At the end of the contest, the teams are ranked by the number of problems that they have solved, and ties are broken based on the time that they took to solve the problems (see scoring). This is how the final standings for the contest are derived; see for instance the standings from SWERC 2016. The best teams receive medals, and the highest-ranking teams (usually the first two teams) are selected to participate to the ACM ICPC World Finals, where they will compete against teams from all over the world.
The organization committee of SWERC changes every few years, and usually comprises faculty from the host institution as well as volunteers. See organizers for details about the current organizers. The venue for SWERC 2017 is Télécom ParisTech; see venue for practical details. Last year, SWERC 2016 was held in University of Porto; see past editions for details about previous editions.
Preparing for the contest
To perform well at SWERC, it is important to train in advance. Teams should train together to have some experience of working together, collaborating to solve problems, sharing the computer between the team members, and allocating the time between problems. (In particular, problems that are not ACCEPTED do not contribute to the score, so it is important to finish the problems that you start. Further, the time scoring rules encourage teams to solve the easy problems first.)
Team members should also become acquainted with the format of the problems and with the algorithmic concepts that usually occur in problems; and of course they should have some practice with one of the official programming languages, to write code quickly and without errors, and debug it efficiently if there is a problem.
The best way to train as a team is to get together with your team members and with one computer for a fixed duration (five hours or a bit less), and try your luck on some problems from previous years without using the Internet. There are websites that collect such problems, and also provide a judging system which is similar to the one used in the contest: examples are ACM-ICPC Live Archive and UVa Online Judge. For instance, the problems of SWERC 2016 can be found on ACM-ICPC Live Archive and on UVa Online Judge. To use the judging system on these websites, you need to create an account (on UVa Online Judge, on ACM-ICPC Live Archive). There are other websites to train for programming contests in general, such as Codeforces, Topcoder, and France-IOI (in French).