End Of The Road For Coding Competitions
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 24 February 2023

Google has shocked and disappointed the thousands of developers by abruptly cancelling of all its coding competitions and the sunsetting of their platform. Two days later, news emerged that Topcoder Open won't take place as an in-person event this year. The online event replacing it is also billed as being "final".

The unexpected announcement from Google came on February 22, 2023 when the team competition Hash Code was already underway and shortly before the qualification round of Code Jam on March 10. Kick Start, its contest for newcomers to coding competitions is also cancelled and instead there is to be a single  online event on Saturday, April 15, 2023 at 2 p.m. UTC. This Farewell Round will consist of four simultaneous rounds of competition at varying levels of difficulty and there will be no cash prize. All those registered for Google's Coding Competitions are invited to participate and new registrations for this contest will be accepted until it finishes. Registered users will be able to sign-in and use the website, which has practice tests and is also where contestants can find both previous submissions and certificates, until June 1st. It shuts completely on July 1st.

In the post on the Google Developers blog the Coding Competitions team are aware that this is the end of an era writing:

Throughout our coding competitions' 20-year history, you've generated billions of lines of code across millions of submissions. You've gone through hundreds of rounds for thousands of problems and put in millions of hours of code execution and testing. Over a million of you from almost every country worldwide have participated — from experienced programmers to students and everyone in between.

News of the cancellation of Google's coding competition quickly spread to Codeforces, a competitive coding site which in 2018 had over 600,000 registered users, in a post on AaronHe's blog. This elicited a big response including the explanation for the abrupt closure - that the  Coding Competitions' Program Manager and other members of the team were victims of the  recent layoffs when Google decided to reduce its workforce by approximately 12,000 roles. 

Bearing in mind that we previously reported that most of the team of Google engineers who design the algorithmic puzzles were Code Jam competitors before working at Google makes the concluding paragraph of the Coding Competition Team's blog post all the more poignant:

And to those who've taken part over the years: It's been an honor to learn, succeed, fail, and have fun coding with you. Through the conceptual artthe slidesthe gophers, and the absurd number of pancakes, we did it – and we did it together. Thanks for going on this journey with us.

Links are to interesting problems on Google's Coding Competitions website and serve as a reminder that when the site closes a huge resource of algorithmic problems and solutions will be lost. 

 

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Within hours another post on CodeForces, initiated by Jonathan Irvings, carried the news that TopCoder is sunsetting its in-person TCO (Topcoder Open) Event, with a "final virtual event" taking place during 2023.

Founded as TopCoder in 2001 to run regular competitive programming challenges, Topcoder, owned by Wipro since 2016, is now described as:

a crowdsourcing company with an open global community of designers, developers, data scientists, and competitive programmers. and claims a community size of 1.7 million.

The decision to end TCO, its flagship annual tournament was announced on February 24 by Topcoder CEO Doug Hanson during a Zoom community town hall. It is now confirmed in an FAQ which also reveals that the reason for letting go of something seen as an important part of Topecoder's history is economic:

the expense of planning, hosting and staffing to support the event no longer make good business sense in this economic climate. While TCO is a much-loved event by many members, the reality is the impact of TCO on our broader member community has continued to shrink over the last few years. 

There may be another reason for discontinuing coding competitions at this point in time. The move from in-person to virtual events has not only made the events less attractive to both the organizers and the participants, but has also made it more difficult to eliminate cheating. And nowadays we have the possibility of AI-powered cheating. As I reported last year DeepMind's AlphaCode, achieved a rank with the top 54% of participants on CodeForces contests causing Mike Mirzayanov, the founder of Codeforces to admit:

I can safely say the results of AlphaCode exceeded my expectations. I was sceptical because even in simple competitive problems it is often required not only to implement the algorithm, but also (and this is the most difficult part) to invent it. AlphaCode managed to perform at the level of a promising new competitor. I can't wait to see what lies ahead!

It may be that Mirzayanov will come to regret the prowess not only of Alpha Code but also of Codex and Co-Pilot, if they threaten the future if competitive programming. 

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 25 February 2023 )