I saw this recently on SlashDot - No US College In Top 10 For ACM International Programming Contest 2013 Now the ACM International Programming Contest is sort of a big deal. In the first fifteen or so years US teams won first place every year. Since 1997 though a US team has not taken first place. In Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competitions there is no US winner in any of the 15 or so categories this year. In fact US results in programming and software development competitions have been pretty poor (one might say embarrassing) for a while. One has to ask why?
I don’t think it is because they US doesn’t have students who can compete. I think we do. I think many of the best and brightest choose not to compete. Why? Well I don’t think they see enough value in the competitions to take time from other things that they value more. If you are a top student in a top US university you probably already think your value is obvious. And realistically it is. Top companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) are recruiting on your campus. You are already doing enough to get their attention. On the other hand if you are in a university in a small eastern European or Asian country that no one has heard of outside the area an an international contest victory may be just the edge you need to get noticed.
You may also already be working on your startup. You’re in the US, probably in a hub of startups, and money and resources are there if you can convince people they should invest. You don’t necessarily need a contest victory to prove that. If you are in a country, even and advanced country, where starting a business is difficult and raising start up capital is rare for students you may again want the attention (and prize money) from a competition to help you get your start.
I think it is a shame though that more US students don’t compete. Call it nationalistic pride if you will but I’d really like to see more US students get this sort of recognition. It just makes us look bad when we don’t have winners in these events. Are they important in the great scheme of things? Maybe not. On the other hand perception is a huge influence on reality. If American students start to think that they can’t compete they may not ever try. And by try I don’t just mean trying programming competitions.
What do you think? Is this a problem? Are there no top 10 US teams in the ACM event because our best are not involved or is it because our best are not good enough by some definition of good enough? If it is a problem how do we fix it?