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Programming Contests: Why Bother?

Would you like to learn how to be a better, more efficient programmer? Do you want to build optimized code that runs faster than anything you thought you could create? Then you might find that entering programming contests helps you sharpen your skills. Keep reading as we take a close look at what you can gain from pitting your programming skills against your peers from around the world.

Author Info:
By: Gabor Bernat
Rating: 5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars / 5
June 23, 2009
  1. · Programming Contests: Why Bother?
  2. · The Contest
  3. · Which Contests?
  4. · Mental Approach

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Programming Contests: Why Bother?
(Page 1 of 4 )

More and more developers are emerging from the woodwork every day, making the number of applications explode. However, the programs tend to be object-oriented and serve only one purpose, to complete a specific task. Now this on its own is not a bad thing; nevertheless, pair this with some top-notch hardware, and you will see applications where efficiency takes a back seat.

Now this, most of the time, is a bad scenario. It is true that you you may wonder why you should bother with optimizing a few lines inside a piece of code, when just a couple of "for/while"-s will have the same effect in the end. Since many people think like this, we get a society of programmers that wastes extra CPU clocks, memory segments and more.

All of those little bits start to stack up, and in the end, the end user will get a computer that does little, and that too slow, while consuming extra power, thus taking us a step closer to killing the Earth. The question is, could we not do something about this?

The obvious answer is a short but solemn yes. Yes, we can search for a specific number inside one ordered array using the binary search to spare a few meaningless steps, instead of the "easy" and "lazy" simple loop over there.

It is true that mastering this approach takes some extra time and effort; however, in the end, you will have in your grasp knowledge with which you can truly create new and quality software products. Programming contests support this kind of thinking.

Such contests were developed to simulate, for those who are still learning (mostly students at a specific level) problems and situations close to the ones that they may face once they enter the innovative applications developers' world.

Besides this, entering programming contests forces you learn a couple of already-existing algorithms so that you do not have to reinvent the wheel for every little problem you will encounter. If you truly want to pay the price and invest the time and effort, you will get the experience and possibly some new tools in your toolbox as payment. Of course, it's given that you want to be and do more than an average developer.

This series of article (four, to be specific) is aimed at showing you how should you approach a contest like this. Now, as specified previously, to be successful, you need to invest time and learn many methods to solve common problems.

Nevertheless, during this series, I will try to offer you a short introduction, a taste of it. In the first two, I will present what programming contests are all about, and the correct mindset with which to approach them. In the following articles I'll show you some collections of tricks that can make the difference between a good and perfect algorithm/program. This will concentrate on the C/C++ language, given that these are the most used in contests. Let's take a look at the challenges, shall we?

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