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TopCoder

I checked out topcoder.com on Joel's suggestion and I find myself wondering - Is this a pissing contest? Or just simple fun?

I'm against cowboy coding, shooting code from the hip but it does make me wonder if it would be fun to try. Focusing on just coding problems and seeing other's solutions to the same problem set might be a welcome change. Anyone ever tried this?

trollbooth
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

No, no one's ever tried it.

David Blume
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

<TWEEEEEEEEEEET!!!>

Unprovoked sarcasm, fifteen yard penalty.

Dunno Wair
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

[No, no one's ever tried it. ]

That's what I suspected. I knew it was a sham. I'll just email you next time since you supplied your email address and speak for everyone.

trollbooth
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

I tried it. It was kind of weird, having to work in such an extremely small timespan (75 minutes I think). You have to write 3 functions, of increasing difficulty (in Java at the time). Not very difficult, but it's hard to think clearly when every second counts. (It kinda reminded me of that scene in Swordfish, you know which one if you've seen it).

I even managed to win some prize, although I was doing it purely for fun, but then I received an angry email from TopCoder scolding me for daring to participate while not being American. Haven't been back since. Technically they had a pretty good product though.

micje
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Short memory, trollbooth?    You're the very one who taught me the unprovoked sarcastic reply.  Look a few threads back at my question about Joel's Attitude problem, and your original reply.

(Ugh, I hate to write this, but in case the above looks serious, it isn't.  I like trollbooth's humor.  I hate killing humor with disclaimers, but sometimes one has to.)

David Blume
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

I've tried it.  A good practice site, and you can do the competitions too.  I am not sure why they are all caught up in people from other countries, not letting them win, etc.

Tim
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

I think there business model is to attract programming talent which will attract companies (like Sun, etc.) who will pay $ to hire some of these folks.

If you're not from the US, I guess there is no business incentive as it appears they only serve the US job market.

AEB
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Personally, I think that http://www.the5k.org is a much more interesting competition.

The memory constraint is far more realistic than a time constraint, and the competition really has produced some ingenius and novel code.

It's non profit too, so theres non of that US only nonsense.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Does anyone know how to see the problem sets they're analyzing?  When I read an analysis, they talk about plans of attack, but they don't actually mention the problems themselves.

anon
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

David, I went back and found the thread you spoke of. I can't say I didn't deserve it, lol. I was just poking fun at broad swipes in general, not at Silicon Valley, hope you don't take it the wrong way.

trollbooth
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The http://www.the5k.org site is awsome! I really like the entries in the "anything goes" contest. Very creative.

trollbooth
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Well, topcoder has been a great resource for learning C# (at least for me). I can honestly say that coding in that site has allowed me to learn that language MUCH faster than any other method.

Ivan V.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

I signed up, but I'm not proficient enough in any of the languages they hold battles in (usually C or Java) to enter the fray.

Phillip Harrington
Thursday, September 12, 2002

The top competitors in topcoder comps are really really smart guys. They aren't speedhackers spewing crap code.

The problems are usually computer science type math problems (graphs etc) that lend themselves to short solutions, and the hard problems are REALLY hard. It is definitely not cowboy coding. The problem sets are tailored to the format.  The problem format allows relatively short competitions, with immediate results and 99.9% objective scoring.

Too bad the business model never really caught on and most of the prize money is gone now. For a while there is was possible to make some $$$. I did topcoder nearly twice a week for a year and it rocked.

dave howard
Friday, September 13, 2002

I suppose I oughta post a reply - Hi, I'm ZorbaTHut, currently ranked #4 on Topcoder and an avid reader of Joel on Software ;) (And I applied to work at his company and he ignored me, but hey, so it goes :P)

The Topcoder problems are, as mentioned before, basically CS problems. Graph theory and dynamic programming are pretty common, but the thing that makes it challenging is that they give you a problem without telling you the implementation you need. Something you might think can be done brute-force might actually require DP, or something you think might need some classy graph theory stuff might be doable brute-force (as was the case a while back - some people spent half an hour coding max-flow, some just hacked it and got it done brute-force, which was barely fast enough.)

The problems are limited to 8 seconds runtime and, apparently, all the RAM you want, though doing anything useful with two gigs of RAM is a bit tough in 8 seconds. I'm not sure when their boxes start swapping.

Competition is limited to Java and C++.

Now, past all the PR stuff . . . :P

I've found it's helped me a *lot* with problem-solving stuff. I've got a ton of new tools, I actually understand dynamic programming (w00t), and I don't make nearly as many dumb coding mistakes. Yeah, a lot of them aren't real-world problems ("Joe, quick! We need a working implementation of 2SAT in THIRTY MINUTES!" <-- doesn't happen) but a lot of the stuff you learn can be applied to the real world.

At least, I find it can. I'm in games, so there's a lot less UI development and a lot more "um, this code isn't working fast enough, and we don't have an algorithm for this process".

Anyway. I'll cheerfully answer questions if you've got 'em.

As for the actual problems, you unfortunately have to sign in to the site to view them. However, Topcoder doesn't spam (well, unless you ask to be notified of matches) and signing up is free. If you're interested at all, plow through a few practice rooms :)

And if monetary incentives are what you're after, there actually are some - two major competitions a year, one college-only, one open. The next invitational is unfortunately too soon for anyone else to get into at this point. Prizes run from $500 to $50,000. (I personally have made over $18k off Topcoder.)

As for the country restrictions, those really only apply if you're winning money. There are massive legal tangles that the staff was slowly working out - then the money vanished, and so they're not really bothering anymore. You can feel free to compete wherever you're from, you just might not be able to win money. The rest is fine though. ;)

Zorba the Hutt
Thursday, September 19, 2002

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