Google holds $100K contest for developers

If calculating the maximum height at which an egg won’t break when dropped while sacrificing the least number of eggs sounds like a worthy challenge to a programmer, then this year’s Google Code Jam may be of interest.

The event by Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. is intended to challenge professional and student programmers with logic and programming problems that require both smarts and creativity.

And while the egg problem doesn’t sound remotely relevant to today’s business, Bartholomew Furrow, Tech Lead for Google Code Jam, said what’s really important are the skills upon which the problem draws. He said contestants will ask “does this fit in the mould of any kind of problem that I’m familiar with or can solve with an existing skill?”

And if the programmer lacks the necessary skill, then creative thinking and collaborating with peers will be in order. Incidentally, that’s the sort of approach that Google engineers apply on a daily basis, said Furrow.

Interested programmers can begin registering and continue to do so throughout the qualification round that ends July 17. This preliminary stage puts registrants through three rounds of problem solving in order to whittle the number down to 500 globally.

A new stage, included before the finals this year, is the regional semi-final where the lucky 500 compete at their local Google office. Canadians who make it among the 500 will convene at the Google offices in Waterloo, Ont.

Google is “a little vain with its offices around the world,” said Furrow, adding that one purpose of the semi-finals is to showcase the premises to potential future employees. Another aim, he said, is to relay the message that if they are interested in joining Google, there are options besides moving to the Mountain View headquarters. “So it really gives it a local flavour.”

After the playoffs, the top 100 semi-finalists from around the world will gather to compete at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View where they’ll vie for the $10,000 grand prize.

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Google Code Jam is relevant to the IT community, said Furrow, “because it reaches out to a segment of the population that is really interested in problem solving and competition.” Furthermore, those interested people can meet others with similar interests from around the world.

Furrow, a Canadian now based in Mountain View, was a finalist in the 2003 Code Jam when he was still a student. Following the event, he was invited for an internship at Google and subsequently stayed on.

The last Google Jam in 2006 saw four Canadians make it to the finals.

While Google Code Jam appears on the surface to be a company recruitment tool for identifying future talent, Furrow insisted “it’s really a way for us to reach out” and garner excitement around coding and problem solving.

The event is a terrific way to network and seek advice from other smart people in the industry, said Furrow. “It automatically builds a community around itself.”

But Google Code Jam doesn’t just flex the mental brawn of the contestants. Google employees globally were invited to devise the challenges that will be inflicted on participants. The company received a surprising 300 challenges.

According to Greg Lane, chair with Ottawa-based the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), an event like Google Code Jam complements the trend among organizations to increasingly tap globally-situated resources. “It’s wonderful because it’s giving people an opportunity to challenge themselves and their peers worldwide,” he said, adding that Canadians in particular will get to showcase their talent on a global stage.

Lane admires the fact that the Games forces the mass of participants to creatively tackle the same problem in different ways to get “all viable and different solutions, and that’s what make it interesting.”

Excitement around the Games and the fact that it demonstrates IT as a “global and connected community” will hopefully instill interest among young people in an IT profession, said Lane.

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