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HackerGames – who's the best hacker?

At HackerRank, we’re working on building the largest and the most engaged community of hackers. As a first step towards it, we conducted a very different kind of programming contest to schools in US – an intercollegiate battle royal we called The Hacker Games.

Campus Ambassadors
We started this competition with a different approach. First, we allowed students to work collectively as a school, rather than creating a team at each campus.Second, instead of reaching out to schools through advertising, email, and Facebook, we developed a campus ambassador program. We reached out to students at each of the campuses and looked for people who were interested in not only helping us reach out to students, but essentially functioning as a beta tester for the competitions we will host in the future. We looked for students who could engage their campus effectively while not treating the role as a job. People who were talented communicators, could have fun, and get the job done. Without these guys we would have not been able to get such a huge turn out.
Special thanks to:
Joe Thuemler, UFL
Don Husa, Duke University
Christopher Hickstein, Michigan
Max Kolysh, MIT
Charles Marsh, Princeton University
Derek Li, Purdue
Julia Hossu, Rice University
Thomas Preli, University of Texas, Austin
Chris Schaefbauer
Michael Ndubuisi, Cornell University
Ye Zhao, Harvard
Justin Starry, Wisconsin Madison
Alexander Ramirez, UCLA
Mason Sibler
Rebecca Sealfon, Columbia University
Chika Nna
John Hanks, University of Utah
Karthik Kumar, Virginia Tech
Nick Buelich
Tony Shen, Tufts
Wolfgang Ritcher, CMU
The Contest:
We wanted the contest to be a different one unlike the general ACM style programming contest or here’s an API, build something cool kind of contest. We wanted the contest to test all aspects of Computer Science.
We had seven levels which gets progressively harder. Level x can be solved only if you solved Level x-1 and each level involved one domain of Computer Science (Graph Theory, Image processing, AI and even a fun problem in Brainfuck). You can download the HackerGames problem set here
We had over 20 schools competing and 1500 participants, it was a huge success. The contest was divided into two stages with the top 5 making it to the finals. There was also a wildcard entry for the school that had the maximum number of participants. It was MIT! The leaderboard after Stage-1
The finals was a Cop & Robber bot game and boy wasn’t that fun. We’ll be releasing the animations of the game public but it was absolutely terrific to see so many different AI techniques. Here’s the final leaderboard and the WINNERS!
Rank | Games won | Handle | University

1 | 29 | Eli | Tufts University
1 | 29 | bwoodhouse | Purdue University
2 | 27 | naonao | University of Florida
3 | 26 | li400 | Purdue University
4 | 25 | TheRaven | University of Florida
5 | 24 | jven | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6 | 23 | SNORLAX | University of Florida
6 | 23 | hua | University of Florida
7 | 20 | nickbuelich0 | University of Central Florida
7 | 20 | guth | University of Florida
8 | 19 | dunmatt | Tufts University
9 | 16 | Nathaniel | Purdue University
10 | 14 | gotsmilk | Massachusetts Institute of Technology
11 | 12 | Anderson | University of Florida
11 | 12 | gill984 | University of Florida
12 | 10 | adr2370 | University of California, Los Angeles
13 | 8 | hacker17 | University of Florida
14 | 3 | slanger | University of Florida
15 | 2 | qwertyasdf | Purdue University
Take Away:
We learned a lot with this contest. The three major things we took away?
1. Weekly phone chats with the campus ambassadors allowed us to make quick pivots that made the games a success.
2. The informal structure of the competition allowed us to have great communication with our users, but at times made the rules confusing. We changed the scoring system late in the game, and added schools after we started. This was a bit chaotic, but at the end of the day, we think it was more fun than your average hackathon.
3. Have clear problem descriptions and scoring documentation put upfront and don’t have forced connection/links between problems.
We are looking forward to taking what we have learned with this contest, and build a bigger, badder, more elaborate contest in the coming months. The great thing about setting up competitions for a company that is building the worlds best platform for  programming competitions is that we’ll get to implement what we learned in a few weeks… not a year from now. If you are interested in working with us at your campus, or just have a kick ass idea for an event, we would love to hear from you via e-mail (hackers [at] hackerrank) or we’re always on IRC (#hackerrank on freenode)

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