When one thinks of sports, a bunch of guys sitting around typing on a computer is probably not what comes to mind. But apparently, competitive coding is a thing, and being a coding jock has its perks. Participants receive all-expenses-paid trips to compete, job offers and even cash prizes. Ashlee Vance wrote about the sport of coding for Bloomberg Business.
On how competitive coding works:
There’s these contests where people are basically programming for speed. The sort of rules vary, but you have this time limit, and you have to solve as many of these puzzles as you can with code that runs quickly and accurately and you’re trying to beat all the other competitors to get this done.
You know, the actual contest is not that exciting. I went to this event called the Facebook Hacker Cup at their headquarters, and they say “Ready, set, code!” and then the entire room falls deadly silent like a library. The first few minutes of the contest are just people reading the problems, sort of picking which one they’re going to do. So it’s very quiet. Eventually, about 10 minutes or so into the contest, you get some click-clack on the keyboards. As the event goes on though, it gets a little more interesting, because people start to freak out, and you can sort of get a sense of who’s doing well and who’s really struggling.
On the opportunities that come from coding contests:
The guy who won, he’s a Belarusian. His name is Gennady but he goes by Tourist online … he hardly ever loses. He probably makes about $250,000 a year from these, so he does all right. The rest of the competitors, for the most part, it’s a way to have bragging rights and to show that you’re good at this skill. I ran across people who are 18 years old, and they are getting job offers from all of Silicon Valley’s top companies. In countries like Russia and China, this is a very prestigious type of thing, and you would get money from the government. You would get automatic entrance into any university if you really excelled at these things.
On whether or not there’s a U.S. support system for coders:
This is one of the more interesting things I found doing this story. This sort of started in the 1970s, and it came out of an academic U.S. environment. The U.S. was very very good and did very well. Over the last decade, the story has been almost completely about China and Russia. The U.S. has a very informal support structure. You go to a university sort of training course for about two weeks if you’re in, say the top 10. I thought Google, Facebook, Microsoft, all the big tech companies would be sponsoring this stuff, but they really don’t. It’s smaller Wall Street firms that I found as the sponsors for this training.
On Wall Street picking up on coding competitions:
Wall Street seems to have caught on to this a little bit earlier than even Silicon Valley did…. I think it’s because the nature of the problems and what these people are good at. They might not be coming up with some breakthrough in artificial intelligence, for example. But if you need some problems solved quickly, you need someone who works well on a team. This is kind of the person that you want. These are real world skills for sure.
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