More than 64 computer programmers from 19 countries gathered in Las Vegas recently for the 2006 TopCoder Open, where developers competed to solve a complex algorithmic problem, design an application or develop a software component.

The competition for US$150,000 in prizes also provided an opportunity for corporate and government IT managers to recruit developers.

The secretive National Security Agency, a co-sponsor of the contest, publicly acknowledged that it hoped to recruit some contestants for its developer ranks. UBS AG was also a co-sponsor of the event. The extravaganza was run by TopCoder Inc.

Glastonbury, Conn.-based TopCoder regularly taps some of the 80,000 programmers who have taken part in its contests to develop software for outsourcing clients such as Stage Stores Inc. and ESPN Inc.

The freelance TopCoder developers are building several Windows-based handheld applications for Stage Stores, a Houston-based apparel retailer that operates 540 stores.

Work on the inventory, receiving, carton-scanning and merchandise transfer applications was slated to be finished in July, said Stage Stores CIO Jeff Kish.

The handheld project is the latest in a series that TopCoder has done for Stage in recent years, Kish said. For instance, the firm has built applications to handle the online sale of gift cards and to manage product returns.

“You can look at the competitions week after week and see how the developers are scoring,” Kish said.

“If you offshore something, you may understand the project manager, but you have no way of understanding the quality of the resources below that level,” he said.

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