More companies—both inside the tech industry and outside—are using coding competitions as a way to test out the skills of potential employees. It’s an approach that offers advantages for both parties, according to some people who mount such contests: Employers get a chance to check out a programmer’s abilities, while programmers get an opportunity to show off. “If you’re a great programmer, but you don’t happen to be from one of the top schools, it’s a way to distinguish yourself,” says Vivek Ravisankar, co-founder of HackerRank, whose competitions have fed job interviews at Amazon, Facebook and other companies.
Companies are also using coding challenges as a way to get new technology out into the world, adds Dave Messinger, Chief Community Officer for TopCoder, a crowdsourced programming competition platform. “Companies want to get their products out there—to get people to know about these apps and develop an ecosystem,” he says. “It gets the developer community excited about the technology, and the developer gets new skills.”
Here’s a list—by no means definitive—of some of the more popular coding contests and live coding sites that are worth checking out.
- ACM-ICPC is one of the largest programming contests run exclusively for college students. Its top teams compete for prize money in an Olympic style competition at the world finals. Partially sponsored by IBM, the annual contest primarily involves algorithmic programming problems, supported in C/C++ and Java. Google and other companies have hired a number of world finalists.
- CodingBat is a “fundamentals” live coding site that offers up problems in Java and Python. For programmers looking to bone up on the basics, CodingBat provides instant feedback. Nick Parlante, a computer science lecturer at Stanford, started the site as a research project.
- CodeChef hosts a programming contest at the start of each month and another, smaller challenge in the middle of the month. Its global programming community is described as a “noncommercial educational initiative” from Directi, an Internet products company based in Mumbai. The competition accepts solutions in 35+ programming languages including C, C++, Java and Python.
- Codeforces regularly hosts about six contests a month. Russian developer Michael Mirzayanov created the site, which is configured to support about 17 programming languages. There’s also a blog area where members can wax philosophic about their programming dilemmas. Users can also create challenges of their own.
- HackerRank, a social platform for programming competitions, runs the bulk of its contests for employers searching for new talent. Besides functional programming, contestants can solve problems in different CS domains like algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
- TopCoder, part of IT consultant Appirio, bills itself as the world’s largest competitive software development community. A full 99 percent of the site is run for clients, with employers using it to vet talent or test new languages. TopCoder also runs its own weekly coding competitions for fun, usually single round, time-sensitive matches based on a variety of technologies, including VM and Python.
Even with added employer interest, most online coding competitions aren’t company-sponsored. Still, Ravisankar says that whether they’re commercial or not, the contests are “a gratifying” and “fun” way to learn something new. But when you’re looking for work, their most important result may be their ability to help you score an interview.
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