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Education Security

China Dominates In NSA-Backed Coding Contest 316

The Narrative Fallacy writes "With about 4,200 people participating in a US National Security Agency-supported international competition on everything from writing algorithms to designing components, 20 of the 70 finalists were from China, 10 from Russia, and 2 from the US. China's showing in the finals was helped by its large number of entrants, 894. India followed at 705, but none of its programmers was a finalist. Russia had 380 participants; the United States, 234; Poland, 214; Egypt, 145; and Ukraine, 128. Participants in the TopCoder Open was open to anyone, from student to professional; the contest proceeded through rounds of elimination that finished this month in Las Vegas. Rob Hughes, president and COO of TopCoder, says the strong finish by programmers from China, Russia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere is indicative of the importance those countries put on mathematics and science education. 'We do the same thing with athletics here that they do with mathematics and science there.'"
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China Dominates In NSA-Backed Coding Contest

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  • by Seakip18 ( 1106315 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:33PM (#28271937) Journal

    Better yet, was the opening of said contest even announced on US top tech sites?

    Second, did US employers, who hire our best programmers, tell them to give it a go with time off?

  • Science Backgrounds (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Niris ( 1443675 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:36PM (#28271979)
    Reminds me of an episode of Sliders where they treated the people who are good at math/science like athletic gods.

    Anywho, I was just at a university graduation a couple weeks ago, and I swear there were about 150 graduates for Social Services and Psychology, and seven engineers/computer scientists/math majors graduating. Of course we're going to get our asses handed to us when we just aren't pushing those sort of programs here in the States.
  • Oh really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:38PM (#28272019) Homepage

    We do the same thing with athletics here that they do with mathematics and science there.

    Oh really? What fraction of A-rod's salary is the top coder in China being paid?

  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:48PM (#28272149)

    Also, spooks could be more motivated to win a competition run by NSA compared to the people who have the citizenship and background to compete for a job instead.

  • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:55PM (#28272227)

    Who knew that teaching kids that 1+1 can equal 3 as long as they feel good about themselves would turn out bad for us...

    Or that two billion years is only about 5000 God-years, and that "fact" is really a question of whose parents have a bigger voting block on the school board. And that canceling the band program in order to pay for the football stadium is really quite reasonable if you think about it.

    Sputnik all over again...

    PS. I know it's funny to crack about the whole self-esteem thing, but (1) I didn't pass thru the school system yesterday, but through the 90s I never knew anyone in school get an attaboy for getting a factual point wrong, wether it was English Lit or Calculus; and (2) there's nothing more useless than an engineer who never offers ideas because he always thinks he's wrong. People gotta have a minimal sense of entitlement otherwise they're sheep. I would hope the US produces engineers who are smart enough to do anything Chinese engineers can, and have enough independence and sense of their own rights to not just do what their "authorities" tell them unquestioningly, which is an unpleasant side-effect of certain kinds of top-down pedagogy.

  • by Twillerror ( 536681 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @05:58PM (#28272261) Homepage Journal

    I often find that the applications coming from China and India to be poor. They are often ugly and hard to use.

    I think we need to differentiate between being able to write an Algorithm and being able to produce something like ITunes.

    Part of this is actually having talented designers and people who can come up with good specifications and use cases and everything else that goes into it.

    These code tests rarely talk about coming up with a good application architecture or good design. Sure we need people writing device drivers, but we also need the higher level tasks done as well. I don't think they are represented well.

    I often try the Google code challenge only to feel bored. I guess I don't really like solving "shortest path" type problems. I'm more about creating a data model, interface, and ultimately a tool with a good user expeirence. Something that solves a day to day task.

    Maybe we should have application challenges where we say "write the easiest to use calculator" :)

  • by selven ( 1556643 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @06:18PM (#28272423)
    At one of the major youth mathematics competitions, Tournament of Towns, the award ceremony is 80% Chinese, 80% of the non-Chinese are Russian, and 80% of the remainder are Indian. It seems like a general pattern around here - look at any math competition top score list and you see Chinese names at the top.
  • Re:Hah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aralin ( 107264 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @06:21PM (#28272445)

    You might be onto something here. My typical experience with Indian programmers is that I just cannot make them to take up any project outside of work no matter how much I suggest it would be a good idea and for most of them 100% of their experience comes from past work projects. Extracurricular activities seem to not be very popular in India from my experience. On the other hand, if I talk with my Easter European friends, more than 50% of their experience will come from projects done outside of work. So they would be more likely to replace some of that extracurricular activity with participation in a contest like this. I cannot say about the Chinese, never had much experience with them though.

  • Re:Damn (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @06:33PM (#28272561)

    This was true at my college in the late 1980's to early 1990's.

    We built a new spiffy apartment complex for students-- and then filled it with atheletes.

    They cut library publication subscriptions-- and gave more money to the athletic program.

    They were desperate to break into the national scene and failed.

  • by ZorbaTHut ( 126196 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @06:49PM (#28272737) Homepage

    It could just be that the US coders are no longer interested.

    I used to compete in Topcoder. I made it to #2, I was in the top ten for over a year solid. Then I got a job at Google thanks to my Topcoder ranking. I joined a team that had a bunch of other ex-Topcoders in it and, as with them, determined pretty quickly that Topcoder just wasn't worth my time anymore.

    Now, I don't know how many Chinese programmers got jobs through Topcoder, but I do know that the vast majority of the best Topcoder competitors in the US were hired by a surprisingly small set of companies. And, well, as cool as Topcoder is, if you sit down and look at dollars-per-hour . . . it's pretty crummy compared to a real job. Especially since they lowered all the prizes.

    So, US coders do Topcoder, do well, get job, quit Topcoder because we get paid well. Chinese coders do Topcoder, do well, don't get job, don't quit Topcoder. Or they do Topcoder, do well, get job, don't quit Topcoder because they're not yet being paid well enough.

    Doesn't surprise me in the least.

  • Proportions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @07:51PM (#28273289) Journal

    20 of the 70 finalists were from China, 10 from Russia, and 2 from the US. China's showing in the finals was helped by its large number of entrants, 894. India followed at 705, but none of its programmers was a finalist. Russia had 380 participants; the United States, 234

    So let's calculate proportional representation then (since it would make more sense as a comparison point):

    Russia: 380/10 = 1 finalist per 38 participants
    China: 894/20 = 1 finalist per 45 participants
    USA: 234/2 = 1 finalist per 117 participants

    So, out of three, Russia seems to top the list. It's a pity they don't give the numbers for finalists from other countries - I would be curious to see how other Eastern European countries fared, and I have a strong suspicion that, if those numbers were included, top 3 would be entirely Eastern Europe.

  • Re:Damn (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JumpDrive ( 1437895 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @09:52PM (#28274151)
    maybe we should just convince the asians that they should run there schools like businesses.
    Anyway, I have worked with a lot of Chinese and Indians that were educated in their home country. They are not that impressive. The ones that I work with that were educated here are consistently impressive. So I don't think it's the schools. Although they did come from some of our top ranked Academic schools.

    I'd look elsewhere for a reason for their high achievement in this coding competition.

    Worst part is that the NSA will probably hire them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2009 @11:26PM (#28274797)

    While TopCoder may not limit who can participate, I'm betting certain 3 letter US agencies do not let their employees participate.

    If you hold a top secret security clearance you need to get any public works (papers, resumes, etc.) pre-approved for release, so I doubt they would be thrilled with someone flaunting some secret algorithm fu.

  • by Vexorian ( 959249 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @12:37AM (#28275279)
    It is always by this time of the year that the results of programming contests like the ICPC and the TCO get announced and the lame US excuses parade begins...

    Russia, Poland and China are better at programming contests, live with it. Really, it is sort of annoying to see Americans making up all sorts of excuses when the results are announced. During the ICPC one guy in slashdot was actually saying that as Russians and Chinese guys are obviously inherently corrupt, they probably stole the answers. Last year, a christian nationalist site said that Russia always wins because the Russian students practice and the US ones obviously don't... What's worse is that Americans assume they are the only country making software, and that they are full of greatly competent programmers that all happen to be busy during these contests.

    Guess what? Programmers in other countries are also very busy. There are also companies in other countries that hire their best programmers, and no, they wouldn't let them go with time off... US participation was not low, in fact it was one of the highest, as this is an American company hosted contest...

    At least you are not down the bottom in these things, US is probably 5th or something, there are hundreds of countries that do much worse, but at least they don't keep making up these lame excuses...

  • Damn-Testing. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ostracus ( 1354233 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @12:38AM (#28275295) Journal
  • Re:Damn (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wingman 5 ( 551897 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:29AM (#28275689)

    Private collages are not there to educate, its to make the board of regents money. It is a business after all, it really is the defining factor between a state school and a private school.

  • Re:Damn (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jarik_Tentsu ( 1065748 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @09:19AM (#28278427)

    Ticket sales? Broadcast rights? Paraphernalia?

    I'm from Melbourne, Australia - and that just sound *nuts*.

    Most schools here just have some Maths teacher or something coaching the teams after school (even the Firsts/top teams of the school)...the only people who come and spectate are parents, maybe a girlfriend or mate. In higher schools, you may see more specific coaches brought in - almost always school alumni - and usually just amateur coaches nonetheless.

    I dunno, is it just me, or is it only America where school sport is treated and followed like a professional league?


  • Re:Teachers... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by electrosoccertux ( 874415 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @09:31AM (#28278571)

    Or, they go to private schools.

    That's the real solution here, in my opinion. This way you can vote with your dollars whether or not the athletic program gets funding. We never had a football team, never needed it.

  • Re:Damn (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ojustgiveitup ( 869923 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @10:11AM (#28279137)
    Have you ever thought about how as software engineers, if we are completely replaced by software then that means we have hit the singularity and the whole world will be in upheaval one way or another? Because once computers can completely program themselves, nothing will be the same.
  • Re:Damn (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cormacus ( 976625 ) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:58PM (#28296013) Homepage
    Well how about we change some of those requirements. Instead of forcing them to accept a certain percentage of students, allow them to only take the top N% of students. The rest of the applicants can go work on pig farms in the country. Isn't that what happens in China?

    The point I'm trying to make is that maybe if we stopped making it so easy for under-achieving students to use state funds to participate in higher education, maybe we could solve a budget problem while at the same time providing some encouragement for kids to do better in school. I mean, what better encouragement is there than the smell of a pig farm???

What is algebra, exactly? Is it one of those three-cornered things? -- J.M. Barrie