December 3, 2014

Cornellian Earns Perfect Score at National Coding Challenge

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A Cornell Ph.D. student earned a perfect score at the HackerRank national coding challenge last month, finishing in third place among approximately 600 other competitors from 87 universities across the country.

Daniel Fleischman grad, a captain of Cornell’s Association for Computing Machinery Programming Team, said his career in coding competitions began when he was urged by one of his undergraduate professors to participate in them.

“I went to a few meetings and got completely hooked,” he said. “[The competitions] are challenging, exciting. There is a great community of people who like to help each other, and the feeling of ‘I want to get better’ is always there.”

Fleischman said he first competed in 2005 and became a passionate participant in the following years, aided by his varied background in computer engineering, mathematics and computer science.

“You could say that I started to be a ‘serial contestant’ somewhere around 2009,” he said.

Besides competing in several world finals, Fleischman has also trained world finalists. Fleischman said it is important for aspiring coders to “always have fun.”

“Coding is way deeper than it seems at first, but don’t be shy.” he said. “In the beginning you won’t perform well, but you will learn fast by reading other people’s code. Always have fun. If you are not having fun go find something else that amuses you.”

For the HackerRank competition, Fleischman competed against graduate and undergraduate students from top engineering departments such as Stanford’s and Princeton’s, who were all tasked with solving seven coding challenges in 24 hours.

According to a press release from HackerRank, Fleischman completed all seven challenges with a perfect score of 420.00 in four hours.

Fredrika Odelstierna, a HackerRank representative, stressed the rarity of this feat, especially amid such tough competition.

“A perfect score equaled 420 points, and only one percent of students achieved that,” she said. “[The] total time to complete all seven challenges was used as the tie breaker. In this case, Princeton ranked first and Cornell placed third.”

HackerRank has a dual goal in these competitions, both providing a platform for coders to sharpen their skills and acting as a tool for companies to recruit technical talent, according to Odelstierna. Previous winners have gone on to jobs at top tech companies including Palantir, RocketFuel, Facebook and Amazon after being discovered as student competitors.

“These competitions not only carry out the hacker ethos and champion coding competitions as a sport — they also serve as the modern career fair,” Odelstierna said.

She added that these types of competitions serve as an equalizer in that they enable recruiters to see a variety of different students perform against the same obstacles.

“We are democratizing how companies approach technical talent by helping them recruit students based off their skill, and not necessarily by their school,” she said.  “It’s also a more scalable way to get in front of thousands of students at once.”

However, Fleischman said coders should view landing prestigious jobs as a potential benefit rather than as a motivating factor.

“If you start competing with jobs in mind you are doomed to fail,” he said. “I think passion should drive you.”