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The World's Greatest Competitive Programmer 202

An anonymous reader writes "Technology Review profiles Petr Mitrichev, who has since 2005 dominated the world of competitive programming, a little known sport where competitors furiously code for five hours in pursuit of glory and cash prizes worth tens of thousands of dollars. Mitrichev now works for Google, and competes only for leisure, but is still ranked number one. Many large tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, now sponsor and pay close attention to competitive coding contests, seeing them as a place to recruit new talent."
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The World's Greatest Competitive Programmer

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  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:37PM (#40906649)

    As a Professional Developer, competitions hurt my ego, so I will come up with scores of excuses on how competitive programming isn't a good measure of one skill. I prefer to keep the illusion that I am the best programmer out there, just because I tend to out perform my peers.

  • by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:40PM (#40906691)

    It's a decent measure, but not a great one, since it adds a time-based component. Saying that being the best competitive programmer is a measure of overall skill is like saying the best speed-chess player is the best overall chess player. It simply isn't true (although it could be, it usually isn't), although the speed-chess player is undoubtedly very good.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:45PM (#40906749)
    *someone's* jealous.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:46PM (#40906759)

    Sure, some of the technically best programmers are slow as hell, but these companies want their products out fast. I'm not surprised they shop there.

  • Re:LOL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:50PM (#40906801)

    Heh. Speak for yourself. A friend of mine lost his virginity in Phoenix, at ACM conference, and we were there for the college programming contest. It must have been '94/'95 or something. The organizers were generous, and we ended up at a fancy bar after the closing dinner. We were happy with how we had done, and success + cash is VERY attractive to some women.

    Actually, I think that the whole 'computer nerds have no girlfriends' is a obsolete tropes. The losers in their parents' basement, maybe. But nowadays computer interests translate in employment, responsibility and ultimately financial security... My colleagues have better marriages than my neighbors.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:52PM (#40906845)

    Is it an effective metric to rank skill?

    Yes it is maybe not the skills you care about, but it is most assuredly a measure of skill. I could see how having someone on the team that has almost immediate insight into how to solve complex problems would save an entire team time. Doesn't mean the same person is the best choice to sit down and write the enterprise level code to actually implement their insight though.

  • by SolitaryMan ( 538416 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @12:53PM (#40906861) Homepage Journal

    I'd say that the biggest problem here is that being good at these competitions does not necessarily mean that one would provide great value for the company and it does not even have much to do with technical skills. In the real world the problems are never well defined, the "scoring" rules are non-existent. Then, there are "people" skills.

    I don't want to diminish this guy's achievement, I know for sure he is a great developer in all other respects, but these competitions measure only one projection of a skill on a specific axis.

  • Re:LOL (Score:4, Insightful)

    by coldfarnorth ( 799174 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:02PM (#40907003)

    Woah. I'm surprised you can type with that chip on your shoulder. Ease up there . . .

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:04PM (#40907023)

    You forgot the most important part from an economic standpoint, maintainability.

    I can squirt out multi line regexes that are not troubleshootable by anyone, not even myself. Very quickly too. Doesn't mean its a good long term idea.

    You know you're in trouble when the fastest way to debug a big mass of regex is to rewrite it from scratch.

  • Re:Fast != Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:08PM (#40907079)
    That's like saying it's silly to swim the butterfly because it's more efficient to swim the front crawl, or saying it's silly to not use your hands while playing soccer. It's a competition, you can argue whether it's measuring the right thing or not, but this guy seems to be the best. Why don't you enter one and see how you do?
  • by Rev Saxon ( 666154 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:18PM (#40907181) Homepage
    Its actually a lot hard to be a sysadmin than most developers thing...
  • Re:LOL (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:24PM (#40907261)
    I think maybe back before the 80s when you had to be really hard-core to be committed enough not only to own a computer but to actually be willing to put in the effort of being proficient with it on a technical basis, many of the people in that category were probably the stereotypical nerd. These days with the easy availability of hardware and the accessibility of tools, a much more representative cross-section of the population is getting into the game. I'd say at least 2/3 of the successful programmers I know are just common ordinary dudes that while not being overtly alpha like a jock are certainly not what you would associate with the live-at-home basement dweller we all joke about. As a matter of fact most of those basement "nerds" are usually just gamers and enthusiasts that can regale you with the minutia of which sata cable is the best and which graphics card is the most value for the money but would be totally lost without a GUI to click on. And you can forget about them being able to program anything as who has time for that when there's a RAID, MAN!?!
  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @01:41PM (#40907471) Homepage Journal

    Once. Consistently ranked in the top 5% on a lot of these coding competitions. He's really fast. Gets amazing things working in remarkably short time. Unfortunately they're an unmaintainable mess, and tend to be packed with bugs. They work for exactly the cases known at the start (well, sometimes only even most of those), and break as soon as they find a new edge case. We got a very low to possibly negative net productivity out of him.

  • by hackula ( 2596247 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @02:02PM (#40907705)
    Never hire a programmer without sitting them down to write some code. The problems should not be very difficult or specialized. You would not believe how many people I have spent an hour interviewing, was totally sold on, then when they had to write out FizzBuzz it turned out they had absolutely no clue what they were doing. People will flat out lie to you about there experience and many are quite believable due to their memorizing talking points about some language or framework. Testing sucks, but hiring someone woefully unprepared for a position is worse for everyone involved.
  • by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @02:43PM (#40908193)

    ROI talks, bullshit walks.

    True ROI includes a lot more than just how fast the code got written. It includes how easy it is to maintain, how reliable it is, and these days, almost invariably how secure it is.

    Beware of bean-counters. Anything that doesn't look like a bean, they ignore.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.