It was in October that I first started seeing the billboard on my way to work. “Programmer Deathmatch! $10,000 grand prize!”, it screamed at me as I drove by. Running down the side was a list of languages; C++, Java, Lisp (what was that doing there?), Ruby (What!?). It’s a good thing I was riding the bus, or I might have caused an accident.
Next thing I knew, it was coming up in the local Ruby Brigade meeting. “Have you heard about the Deathmatch?” “Yeah, that sounds so cool. Are you entering?” Some people were excited, others intimidated, but the idea certainly generated some buzz. Berkeley Data Systems (the company behind Mozy.com, the online backup service) seemed to strike gold with this idea.
When asked about their motivation, Josh Coates (President of Berkeley Data Systems) said, “We thought it would be a fun thing for the local technical community and a great way for us to get to know some of the best local engineering talent.”
The contest succeeded on both counts. It was a successful recruiting tool for Berkeley Data Systems, and it added some excitement to the local programming scene. For Rubyists, it was cool to see our language hanging out with the big boys.
120 programmers participated in the first round over the Internet. The second round (also run over the ‘Net) had a field of 30. Only 8 were left standing for the final round, which was held at the Berkeley Data Systems headquarters in American Fork, Utah.
In the final round, the 8 programmers used 8 different languages; C, C++, C#, Java, Perl, PHP, Python, and Ruby. The eight finalists ranged in age from 24 to 38. After several hours of intense hacking, the final round ended in a tie, with each particpant taking home a $1,250 share of the prize. One of them walked away with a bit more.
Brian Palmer, the youngest of the finalists (and the Ruby user) impressed Josh and the other folks from Berkeley Data Systems enough that he ended up being offered a job. I talked to him a bit about his experiences (you can read more of his feedback here):
- Do you think Ruby helped or hurt you in the competition?
Absolutely it helped. Up until the final round, the only criteria was
whether you could write a correct program in the time given, so the
fact that I could write so little code to create my solutions was
obviously a huge plus.
- What was the Death Match like?
The Deathmatch was fun, but intense. I’ve never done a coding contest
before, it’s interesting to see how your coding standards change when
you have 10 minutes to write a program. :)
Josh Coates also shared what may be the best news about the deathmatch, “It turned out great, and we’ll likely make it an annual event.” Perhaps other companies should look into making this kind of investment in the local community as part of their recruiting efforts — for Berkeley Data Systems, it seems to have paid off pretty well.