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Americans Are Scarce in Top Programming Contest 478

Carl Bialik from WSJ writes "Only four of the 48 best computer programmers in the world are Americans, at least according to a computer-programming competition run by TopCoder. Poland had 11 of the final 48, and Russia had 8. Wall Street Journal columnist Lee Gomes asks whether this is more evidence of a sad decline in American education and competitiveness: 'Surprisingly, the Eastern Europeans don't seem to think so. Poland's Krzysztof Duleba, 22, explained that in countries like his own, there are so few economic opportunities for students that competitions like these are their one chance to participate in the global economy. Some of the Eastern Europeans even seemed slightly embarrassed by their over-representation, saying it isn't evidence of any superior schooling or talent so much as an indicator of how much they have to prove.'"
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Americans Are Scarce in Top Programming Contest

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  • Polish politeness. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:30AM (#15300036) Homepage Journal
    Some of the Eastern Europeans even seemed slightly embarrassed by their over-representation, saying it isn't evidence of any superior schooling or talent so much as an indicator of how much they have to prove.
    Whilst it's true that Russian & Polish IT guys have less opportunities & more to prove, I think they're just being polite saying "it isn't evidence of any superior schooling"

    The focus on mathematics in education in Poland (along with Russia and China) is far higher then in the US. The difference in what a typical high school graduate can do between these countries is huge. (I also note that at least 1/2 of the four Americans amongst the top coders began their education in Singapore)
    • I also note that at least 1/2 of the four Americans...

      I bow to your math skills!
    • I'm just guessing here, but I figure you're not a coder. If you were, you'd know that coding typically has very little to do with mathematics.

      I think it's not politeness, I think they're plain right. I'm a programmer by profession and I sure as hell don't have the time or even the inclination to enter a contest. I'll settle for a beer and some computer games after coding the whole day long, thank you.
      • Umm... coding has LOTS to do with mathematics. At least, the algorithmic/efficiency side of coding has to do with mathematics. Hence why computer science sits in the mathematics faculty at University of Waterloo [uwaterloo.ca], arguably one of the top computer science schools in the world.
        • by mce ( 509 )
          And even if coding would not have a lot to do with mathematics (something that, like you, I also disagree with), proficiency in either of them is strongly favoured by the same underlying skillset(s): analytical thinking, rigour in logic, accuracy and knowing when that is and is not relevant, attention to detail, ...
        • I'd say it largely depends on what level you're programming at. The level I program at, it's quite rare in my experience to find large efficiency gains in one single algorithm. More often, large code-bases and multiple programmers working on one project create a flow in the code that itself is inefficient, e.g. data that is retrieved more than once, or in too small chunks, or too large chunks, loops that don't get jumped out of, etc. I wouldn't call that mathematics.
      • If you were, you'd know that coding typically has very little to do with mathematics.

        Ouch. This proves my point precisely.

        I'm guessing you did software developement or similar at University? If you'd done Computer Science (or paid attention) you would know that coding IS mathematics

        Sure - there's enough layers of abstraction these days that you can get away with faking it - but to be one of top programmers, to truly understand algorithms, you have to undestand mathematics.
        • I'm sorry. The nuances of the difference between Software Developement & Computer Science are lost on me, as I have no intimate knowledge of your educational system. I'm dutch you know.

          Actually, I didn't even have a formal education in computers, but I can hold my own with formally educated programmers and have done so for over 10 years now.

          But if coding is mathematics, please tell me were logic goes. And don't tell me it's part of mathematics.
          • I'm dutch you know.

            Gezellig - I live in the netherlands.

            But if coding is mathematics, please tell me were logic goes. And don't tell me it's part of mathematics.

            The basis of how computers work is boolean logic. Its maths. If you don't understand it, you don't understand what's happenning underneath your program.

            I'm not saying you can't hold your own against all the other java programmers you work with (I also don't have a formal IT education). But to _really_ be a top programmer, you have to understand how
      • Coding is math, more math and a bit of math on the side. If it isn't for you, step down from the high level application programming, or database programming, and come down to me into the depths of compression algorithms, cryptography and computer graphics.
        • No, I think he's right... you are implementing some mathematical algorithms, in which case you're doing a lot of math (I do graphics, so I know where you're coming from), but in general "programming" isn't math, and if it is it's only very simple math (counting, sorting, looping, indexing).

          The rest is logic, not math. Are they all related? Sure! But the fact is that programming is programming plus something else... that something else might be compression algorithms, or accounting, or developing UI's, or
          • Maybe, but be honest and truthful, does it take a programmer to wrap an existing algo in code? Once the algo stands, pretty much anyone with a few months of C++ can coat it in some lines of code.

            At least that's what it is for me. As soon as I got the algo figured out, hacking it down into code is a finger exercise.

            But that could be mostly due to the heavy use of Assembler. :)
      • As a coder (you can't rule out C++ and lisp knowledge) and a mathematician (well, not really graduated, yet) I can say that programming and maths have a lot in common. In fact, math is harder, and after doing some higher maths, you will surely be a better coder. Maths expands your mind.

        However, coding has (almost) nothing to do with what is normally seen as maths, it's not like algebra, it's not calculus, and is not linear algebra either (most of the time). In that sense you're totally right. The current em
    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      It wasn't so long ago that the de-facto reason given for coding excellence in the Eastern Block was down to the fact that they were trying to compete with NATO in a cold war on hardware that was at least a generation behind. Where US programmers would be using C (or more likely Ada on DoD projects) the Russians would be doing the same thing in assembly language because it was the only way they could get close to the same performance on the available hardware. I'm curious as to whether these are "new" prog
      • by mikael ( 484 )
        Read the article:

        "Much of Poland's abundant interest in coding contests can be traced to Tomasz Czajka, who as a multiple TopCoder champion has won more than $100,000 in prize money since the competition began. That has made him something of a national hero back home, and other students have been eager to follow suit."

        Having the chance to win $100,000 would be a fairly good incentive for anyone to want enter a programming competition.
      • by malekith ( 618195 )
        I live in Poland. I know personally some people from the Top Coder list. I even took part in the regional ACM contest some time ago (without much success, like 30th place in Central Europe).

        I guess most of the Polish contenders in Top Coder were students. Which means they are under 25, which in turn means they were in high school in late 90s and hardware wasn't a big issue here back then. OK, I was programming Atari 800 when I was 7 years old, but I guess it doesn't change much ;-)

        My experience in such

    • by Flaming Babies ( 904475 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:59AM (#15300198)
      I also note that at least 1/2 of the four Americans amongst the top coders began their education in Singapore
      I'm perfectly willing to accept that I missed something while reading...
      but where do you see where they began their education?

      Po-Shen Loh, 23, a graduate student in math at Princeton University, and his 21-year-old sibling, Po-Ru, now an undergraduate at CalTech. Both were born in the Midwest of parents who had emigrated to the U.S. from Singapore; their father is a professor of statistics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

      Born in the US. Going to school in the US. Did you get additional information from another article?

      According to this article [weac.org],
      the family has lived in Wisconsin since 1982.
      • I'm perfectly willing to accept that I missed something while reading...

        No - you're entirely correct. I misread that sentence. Thanks for pointing that out.

        However, with a Singaporian father who's a statistics professor, I think they probably got a better-then-usual mathematics education.
      • by flynt ( 248848 )
        I have a Master's in Statistics and took a class with Professor Loh about decision trees for multivariate analysis. His kids did go to a public school here in Madison, and one of them won a top ten place in the Intel Science Talent Search competition. On a side note, having him as a father must certainly have helped as he is one of the kindest and smartest people I've ever met.
    • You can be an excellent coder with a small sub-set of math knowledge, unless your application requires a bunch of complex mathematical computations.

      I've yet to be assigned one.

    • ... and have a connection with local computer science, and Americans, and I think there's a mixed bag of reasons. Education style is a factor: education here is "memorize these twenty sort of situations and learn to recognize them. Next week you'll memorize twenty more." American education is more creative, and against "rote learning." The result is that here in Eurasia students have very strong memories, are very good at pattern recognition, and can beat the Americans in a question of "How do you code
    • The focus on mathematics in education in Poland (along with Russia and China) is far higher then in the US.

      I think though this is not necessariliy all it seems.

      (1) Averages can't be compared when the population is selected in different ways. For example I could take people who had received nine or ten years of education in nineteenth century Britain vs. twenty-first century Britain, and show that mathematical education had declined by administering a geometry test. But in the twenty-first century Britai
    • by uradu ( 10768 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @09:22AM (#15300357)
      > I think they're just being polite saying "it isn't evidence of any superior schooling"

      While it is true that Eastern Europeans are masters of understatement and self-deprecation, I don't think that's the whole story. There is a much stronger culture of high-profile competition in the East than in the West, probably because of a long tradition amongst old communist regimes to foster scientific competition. Kind of like the national spelling bee competition in the US, over there much more emphasis was placed on math competitions. Mind you, pretty much the same kinds of people sneered at them as do over here.

      OTOH I really don't think there is that much difference between the science curriculums of the East and the West, with the singular exception of the US. I experienced three high school systems (Eastern Europe, Germany, Australia), and the only significant difference I could see was in the timing--Eastern Europe tends to drop a lot of the heavy science sh!t on unsuspecting students way too early, such as grades 5 and 6 and in general adopts a dog-eat-dog attitude towards the students, while in the West they tend to stage that later on during the senior years and also seem more concerned with not letting students fall off this speeding bus. Australia was the most pronounced in that respect, with the bulk of the advanced science and math being left for the last two years of high school. But at the end of high school I think most Western school systems have imparted about the same amoung of science and math as in the East.
      • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @12:35PM (#15301822)
        I worked with a high school student who had recently moved from Romania to the US. I found his impressions of the US school system very interesting.

        The first thing he said was that school was a lot easier here. But he immediately followed with the fact that he didn't think that his old school taught him anything more, or more advanced. Just that they took a much more adversarial approach with the students.

        He said that getting a C was expected, and that you could at any time be expected to stand up in front of the class and explain any part of the subject matter, and be admonished if you could not. Pop tests were a common occurance. He said that you studied like mad just to avoid looking like an idiot.

        Whereas, in his American school, you had to slack off to get bad grades, and you never had a test without a week's notice. But although easier, the same material was covered in the same detail.

        Just thought it was interesting. In the US, you really aren't forced to learn any discipline, it's up to you to decide to care about it, whereas that doesn't seem to be a real option in eastern countries.
    • at least 1/2 of the four Americans

      Speaking of math, you could've left out the "1/" and made it clearer -- as it is, it's ambiguous whether you mean 0.5/4 or 0.5*4...

  • by Mindwarp ( 15738 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:30AM (#15300037) Homepage Journal
    That's because all the best American programmers refuse to work without a pay-check. Capitalism at work, Ladies and Gentlemen! ;-)

    Note for the humor impaired - it's a joke, OK?
  • by TomatoMan ( 93630 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:32AM (#15300047) Homepage Journal
    ...American Idol is on.
  • I win (Score:5, Funny)

    by saboola ( 655522 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:33AM (#15300053)
    10 PRINT "HOME"
    20 PRINT "SWEET"
    30 GOTO 10
  • by CowboyBob500 ( 580695 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:34AM (#15300055) Homepage
    One of my professors did an exchange year at an Ivy League university, and when they got there they had to send back to the UK for their A Level (pre-university qualification) notes as the students were not at the level that they expected.

    Also, I had a friend who was on the student exchange program at the same University at the same time. She was a pretty average C grade student (I'm sure she won't mind me describing her like that), but in her year in the US she got straight As.

    I don't know if the standard of education is going down in the US, but it apparantly was nowhere near the standard that my professor and friend expected.

    • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:50AM (#15300145) Homepage Journal
      Anecdotes, Anecdotes, Anecdotes. Well, first and foremost, grade inflation is rampant in the Ivy leagues. Their undergrad education system is starting to look like Japan's: IE you work your ass off to get in, but once you are in you are set.
      Secondly, I have had the opposite experience with supposedly "brilliant" Indians and Chinese who graduated from these wonderfully elite universities who couldn't tell their ass from a whole in the ground when it came to real computer science. What does this say? Nothing really. Just personal experiences, not statistically significant.
    • About a decade ago, I taught in good quality US colleges (UNC, UMinn, UCLA). Europeans are about 2 full years ahead as freshman. Same ratio as good quality private school students to public school students. American public schools (and I mean the "good" ones here) really do suck and really do fail to educate kids. I'm not sure why people refuse to see the truth when it is so incredibly obvious but they do. Colleges are for all practical purposes having to do the last 2 years of high school because thei
      • I think American Public schools vary greatly from region to region and school to school. For instance, compare your average graduates from central Mississippi to Minnesota. Minnesota has some of the finest public schools in the US. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, I didn't think my education was expecially good or bad, I had 3 years of programming classes, trig and calc, physics, a good selection of AP classes, a nice auto and electronics shop, a good well rounded education. After highschool I went o
        • I was talking about the "good" public schools. As for your success in college that was my point, the lack of preparation forces colleges to teach high school classes. The reason "good" public schools don't seem bad is because standards are so low. The bad ones are terrible but everyone knows that.
    • Also, I had a friend who was on the student exchange program at the same University at the same time. She was a pretty average C grade student (I'm sure she won't mind me describing her like that), but in her year in the US she got straight As.

      Was she the same the age as everyone else?

      Either way, from my experience grade-inflation is really, really bad over there. When I talk with people I pretty much map 'Straight A student' directly to 'above average'.

    • One of the sibling posts talks about how he didn't have to study for his exams and he finds that important since you have to know your stuff when coding in real life...

      Riiiiight. Passing algorithms here at DIKU (Denmark) you have to know just about all the proofs in the book - the exam is oral, and the prof. is one mean bastard (sorry pawell :)). Almost all courses are extremely hard to pass (we have some courses in HCI and you can sleepwalk those)

      In real life you don't need to know the proofs, but you sure
      • I had to study about 40 hours per week for several weeks for my graduate level theoretical computer science course, same with my graduate algorithms course. That is on top of the nearly full time job it was to complete the homework assignments throughout the semester and the examinations. This was at a relatively small CS department in a smaller (11,500 student) New England state school (UMaine).

        I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I wasn't one of the students that failed the course (B- the lowest

    • Ivy League universities are greatly rumored to pad grades in order to keep their high reputations.

      Hell, at Brown your entire freshman year is pass/fail.
    • To add another couple of anecdotes in an attempt to create some evidence, I know a bunch of Brit students who did the second year of their degrees at UNC and described it as being about two years behind, somewhere around A-level standard.
      Also, IIRC, the people on my degree course (Chem Eng) who did a year in the States had to do a lot of catch-up courses once they got back.
    • I did one semester at a US university (UConn) as part of an echange program. That was the only time in my life I felt I was increasing the class average just by myself. Funny thing is I've heard a few people there tell me "oh, you're going to the US to get a good education...". Yeah right!

    • Probably because Ivy League schools are almost exclusively focused on Accounting, Economics, Business, Law, etc. They're not hard-numbers schools. Our policy makers and politicians and lawyers and fortune-500-scandal-hiding accountants go to Ivy League schools, along with a number of kids from American dynasty families that are still here from the 1800's. Ivy league schools are hard to get into like Country Clubs are hard to get into. You need to be white anglo, rich, and have connections. Academics ra

  • And, if you are unemployed, then you have lots of time to enter programming contests and try to make a name for yourself so that you can get an H1B and job in USA.

    I could also draw the conclusion that a country that exports by value the most software in the world probably doesn't need contests to prove anything.

    I shall now be modded down as "Needs more Slashdot 'education'"...
    • I'd also ask the NSA, who is sponsoring this competition, to see how many American coders and mathematicians they have on their payroll. I tried to ask but they blackbagged me and I woke up in the middle of a junkyard in Guatemala, so I know better now than to ask questions.
  • But... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:38AM (#15300075) Homepage
    does it matter?

    Ofcourse it's also a matter of signing up for contests. I don't really like contests\races\etc. I hate being competitive, it doesn't bring up the best in me. Besidies, I believe we can get a better solution if we work together instead of competing. So I wouldn't sign up for a contest like that. How many others have similar reasons for not competing in contests like these?
    So, from the X that signed up for that contest only 4 to place within the 48 were American. Being 3rd with only 3 competitors still makes you last.
    • Exactly!

      The key figure isn't how many reached the top 48, it's what proportion of entrants did. If only 4 Americans entered, then 4 reaching the top 48 is brilliant. If 80% of all entrants were American, then they did extremely poorly.

      Also, one other key question - is this competion in any way credible? How many /.ers had heard of it before today?
      • The best US team in the ICPC finals this year was "only" in 7th place, by the MIT. antimatter (Hubert Wang) was in that team, and also at the TCO. reid (Reid Barton), ex-IOI winner, was also present. Of course, there are lots of people that have done good in other programming contests that are not TopCoders, the 75 minute format stops some people who are smart, but not so keen on just writing code like crazy. Still, I haven't met people at other contests (like the ICPC) who consider TopCoder not credible. T
  • but as for myself I make programs at work and the last thing I want to do when I get home is program for recreational purposes. I think that sentiment likely goes for a vast majority of programmers, especially ones with a family or a (so-called) life.

    Additionally I think its hard to decide just what makes the "better" programmer. I don't consider myself a good coder when it comes to strictly algorithms and other not such fun stuff. But let me create a program that someone else can actually use with a
    • I'm an American student at the University of Chicago, which is a pretty okay school and should provide a general idea of my educational background. That said, my background has actually made me less likely to compete in such competitions, more of an emphasis throughout my public and University education has been placed on individual or tiny group craftsmanship. A nifty application that solves a problem elegantly or a well coded toy that taught me something new has always been more likely to elicit a better
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:39AM (#15300083)
    From what I have seen, these contests are more who can write the coolest macros for simple but commonly used tasks, and primarily involve creating quick hacks to get things coded faster.

    Maintainability and good engineering are rarely tested. It is just who can create quick and dirty implementations for a given task. There is a lot of skill involved, but not the sort of skill that most enterprises would want.

    If there was a coding competition that involved developing robust, scalable architectures for enterprise applications, and designing software to best meet the needs of a client, then we would see who had the best software engineers.
    • Well, the TCO [topcoder.com] had design and development competitions as well. Those are used in real applications. And, yes, there were quite a few finalists from the US this year, although none in development. The pay is higher for design, and I would also dare to say that the advantage of using your native language to write design documents is more significant there than in development or algorithmic competitions.

      (And you can do rather well in the algorithmic ones without resorting to C macros, there are some C++ coder

  • by VorlonFog ( 948943 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:40AM (#15300089) Homepage Journal
    I believe it's more how American corporations have dumbed down everything so there's fewer opportunities to excel while gainfully employed. When's the last time your employer recognized someone with real talent? The only people I ever see on these annual awards are butt-kissers.
  • I agree... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by d3ik ( 798966 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:42AM (#15300098)
    I would tend to agree with Mr. Duleba. I don't think this reflects on the intelligence of American programmers, it reflects on our work schedules. I'm 22 just like Mr. Duleba, and I would love to enter contests like this just for the fun of it... I just don't have the time.

    I'm gainfully employed building financial systems and whatever other contracts I'm working on. As Mr. Duleba was saying, I think it reflects more the economic state of some of the Eastern European countries. There is a lot of talent, but not a lot of opportunity. A little publicity from a contest like this can make you more viable to employers and give you an edge on the competition.
    • 1. usa has 1283 financial companies each wanting their own webserver app implementations, - 2000 jobs
      2. E-Europe, uses 3 companies - 5 programmers.

      So whats more efficient?

      Personally I find financial web applications utterly boring. 20000 apps all doing the same thing!!!!
      Try coding a photoshop clone, thats effort. Or a finalcut clone or an embedded device that has
      a built in webserver service thats hand coded not done via ASP/PHP.
  • Why bother? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Infernal Device ( 865066 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:43AM (#15300102)
    Will I get time off from work to enter a competition that I've never heard of (nor has my boss) and will I be compensated for the expenses incurred in travelling to Las Vegas and which ultimately proves only that I can write code under pressure in a town that you couldn't pay me to live in?

  • I prove my worth as a developer [*] by what I do [libtomcrypt.com] not what I hack together at a conference.

    Also I think America [and Canada] got over, at least for us techies, certainly not for marketting purposes [arrg] the whole "gee whiz bang we're working with computers". The "Hackers" era has long since died.

    That isn't to say there isn't the culture around though. Codecon, shmoocon, toorcon, defcon, etc are all around and surviving (the latter being one of the biggest).

    [*] There is a difference between developer and
  • by MickMac ( 890464 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:45AM (#15300124)
    The great programmers in this world are those who have demonstrated their abilities by actually designing and implementing great software. Coding the solution in a competition proves nothing. You don't have to look any further than the GNU, Linux, Apache, KDE, Gnome etc. etc. CVS logs and mailing lists to find the real greats! As a European I say that the US can hold its head up high on this front.
  • .net and java (Score:2, Insightful)

    by XO ( 250276 )
    I can't say that I know a single person who actually knows the two languages that TC works with...

  • I remember doing the ACM Programming Contest when I was at university. It's unfortunate that the problems were more about math than they were about programming. The contest wasn't about who could write the most maintainable code in the shortest period of time, or who could write the most elegant solution, it was primarily about who could write the most efficient algorithm to solve the given problem. 99% of the time this meant knowing that the problem was similar to some famous, already solved, problem an
  • America? Pshaw. Where the hell is China? A huge nation with a 10-point IQ advantage should be dominating these sorts of contests. Also, how do Ashkenazi Jews (highest IQ ethnic group in the world -- though low visual-spatio IQ, but well-represented in Math and Physics) do in these sorts of things? My impression is that they are under-represented.

    Like the NBA, these sorts of contests require a lot of training and effort on behalf of the participants. But also like the NBA, racial genetics is the dominating
  • I started doing TopCoder competitions when I was unemployed. When you don't have a job, you can make all the competitions. But then I got a job, and then the only ones I could do were night competitions. And they seemed like they were once a month. 3/4 were at some time during the American workday. I know my boss isn't gonna let me stop working for 3 hours just to do some silly competition.
  • by otis wildflower ( 4889 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @08:59AM (#15300197) Homepage
    Gosh, I hope not. What with their 21st century tax mechanisms, high literacy and technology adoption, I think the Baltics, Poland, and much of the rest of Eastern Europe are leapfrogging Central and Western Europe. Why would you open a new business anywhere in Europe outside the east or Ireland? Folks in France, the UK or Germany are not _that_ much better (nor are Americans, to be honest), and any skills you can't find locally just acquire them via fiber optics and conference cams... I wonder if the tax schemes of Croatia are nice and flat, Dubrovnik would be a _great_ place to live and work I'd think...

    Better yet, they can take part in Euroland while remaining far more attractive for business investment (and, thus, jobs).

    Wouldn't the ironing be delicious if "East Germany" were to secede again, but this time in order to go 21st-century capitalist (flat tax, low corporate tax) and join the Eastern European economy?

    Luckily they can still remember the true face of socialism, and what havoc it can wreak, though perhaps in a couple of generations they too will transform into ignorant ingrates...
  • by Jacek Poplawski ( 223457 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @09:03AM (#15300227)
    There are good programmers here in Poland.

    But after my studies I had choice:
    - stay in my home city and work for awerage wage
    - move to western Poland to big city and work for foreign company
    - emigrate to another country

    I have chosen second option, I moved far away from my home city, but many people just emigrate as fast as they can.

    And now there is one more reason to emigrate: terrible political state (PIS, Lepper and Giertych).

    • And now there is one more reason to emigrate: terrible political state (PIS, Lepper and Giertych).

      Don't worry, under such leadership we'll quickly remove the gap that divides us from the US level, at least in the area of education.
    • My girlfriend owns a Cafe in London. A few of her waitresses are Polish. One of them is even a Computer Science graduate.

      That waitress came to London because she said that Poland is so corrupt, a Pole cannot get a job unless you are very connected. She does not get a job here programming because her English is not yet Business class, but she's working at it.

      It seems these competitions are a good way to have access to free market opportunities. English is still a requirement.

  • by Cosmo the Cat ( 78184 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @09:06AM (#15300244)
    Science and technology is just give lip service here in America. We don't value science and tech geeks here. You want to earn some real money? Don't wast your time in science - go study law.
  • Hmmm. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @09:12AM (#15300295)
    I see they're still stuck on the strange idea that speed is the proper metric for determining who's the best programmer.
  • the high school tendency to make fun of anyone interested in something other than sports? I'm asking honestly. Why do we encourage sports so much and not higher arts?
  • I entered a couple programming contests for fun. It's kind of a thrill to have to solve 6 somewhat tricky problems in three hours, especially since you have to handle bad input of various unspecified ways. But at the same time, it's something that I kinda roll my eyes at when talking about these national competitions. Meet in groups? Have set roles for parsers, math guys, etc.? Bah, I'd go to the pub, put down a couple guinesses, and then go to the competition (which would always have free pizza).

    I'd always
  • "Best computer programmers" my arse.

    I looked at a few topcoder questions recently and they generally started something like: 'Create a monotonically decreasing triangular matrix with the minimum possible values of X, Y, R and S where X =...' or something equally dull.

    These are not interesting programming problems to me (and probably a lot of other programmers) as they are not creative enough. I would have thought they might possibly be interesting to some mathematicians with a side interest in programming.

  • The American Ego (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flithm ( 756019 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @09:39AM (#15300457) Homepage
    Why should there be more top American programmers in the world?

    USA counts for about 4.6 percent of the world population. (300 million out of 6.5 billion). 4 out of 48 is actually almost double of what could be expected based on numbers alone.

    America isn't known for its outstanding education system. So again I pose my question: why SHOULD there be more American programmers, and why are the results a surprise?

    The only thing that surprises me about it is that there weren't fewer than 4 of the 48 who were American.

    I'd like to stress that I'm not trying to be anti-American or anything... just realistic. If you want to change the numbers, you've gotta look at the truth of the matter, and make decisions from there.

    Look at what the Russia and the European countries are doing right instead. It's curious to note their humble attitude toward their over-representation.
  • by poszi ( 698272 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @10:06AM (#15300654)
    Disclaimer: I'm a Pole working as a post-doc in the USA after graduating from a Polish university.

    I would also be cautious to make a general statements because programmers are considered 'elite' in Poland. There is huge competition to enter the computer science departments and the good majority of them can earn a decent salary after graduating (a decent in Poland, it would not be that great in the USA). The studies at good universities are hard with a lot of mathematics. The state of the general education is probably less rosy. I was teaching quantum chemistry at the university and the math skills of the students were not that great. However, some of the students were indeed excellent. I think it can be explained by large differences between schools in Poland. Some high schools teach very good maths and some are abysmal. I learned integration, differential equations and complex numbers in high school but some of my students had problems with functions, differentiation and some were even bad in fractions.

    On the other hand, I took part in International Chemistry Olympiad [wikipedia.org] while I was in high school and I remember the USA students were rarely at the top (and the results of the recent competitions linked in the Wikipedia article show similar results) but I'm still not sure it is because of worse education in the USA or that the science contests are less popular.

    P.S Poland is in Central Europe. I forgive you your math skills but could Americans at least learn geography? :)

  • by wirelessbuzzers ( 552513 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2006 @01:14PM (#15302163)
    TopCoder and other competitions are as much about the coaches and the effort people put into training as they are about intelligence. The people who do really well on these competetions train very hard, specifically for computer science contests, and the University of Warsaw people have a really, really good coach.

    I think that America does poorly on TopCoder not because we have poor students (although America's educational system could be better), but rather because Americans aren't as interested in it. I don't know who the other two Americans are, but I expect that several of my friends and I would have a good shot at Las Vegas if we studied a few hours a week as an extracurricular, particularly if we had a coach as good as the Polish guy.

    I'm not just spouting this, either. TopCoder is very similar to the math olympiads and the Putnam (which I have first-hand experience with), so much so that the same people often do well at both (Reid Barton, Po-Ru and Po-Shen Loh won multiple gold, gold and silver respectively at the IMO).

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin