CodeChef: an initiative to empower programmers in India

India is projected to have a coder base of 5.2 million developers by 2018 but still lags when it comes to coding competitions.

In the world of technology, programming and coding are conceivably the most important theories that students need to learn in order to excel in the field. While Indian engineering and IT pillars do provide numerous tortuous courses for building a steady base, competitive programming is an area where Indian students rank far behind the world.

According to a research, India is projected to have a coder base of 5.2 million developers by 2018, more than the US's 4.5 million. However, in terms of performance, the country has been lagging far behind the best programmers in the world.

With an aim to overcome this obstacle, Directi, an amalgamation of tech companies, started the non-profit coding platform, dubbed Codechef. Anup Kalbalia, BU Head, CodeChef, in an interview with Deccan Chronicle discussed myriad topics related to the whole initiative apart from pointing out the appalling situation of the Indian programmer/coding community, which he feels, is due to the gaps in the Indian education system.

Kalbalia cites this problem as something which is related to the inconsistencies and gaps in the Indian education system, which has a limited scope, lacking flexibility offered by courses abroad.

He said, “India is one of the biggest IT industries in the world. However, when it comes to logical problem solving, we lack accuracy.” In India, students in school and colleges follow a rigid system where things are purely theory based, avoiding any practical approach. Realising the need to overcome this situation, the non-profit educational initiative was launched as an experiment back in 2009 with a goal to improve and expand the Indian programming community.

According to Kalbalia, the platform has gained prominence over the years but there is still a long way before the final goal is achieved.

Not only does the platform help students solve logical problems but it also doubles up as a domain where coders, all over the world, compete and engage in a friendly manner. The platform open to any one (even students without any formal degree) and there a featured competitions held every month, with prizes and goodies on offer.

Well, this is one way of increasing awareness among schools and colleges in the country who are rather ignorant toward online global competitions. Moreover, the platform also enables major institutions organise programming contests of their own; an average of 30 plus external contests are held on the platform every month.

The platform, in fact, opens new doors for students who haven’t had the chance of studying for Indian IITs or top notch engineering colleges. For instance, if a student is studying in a tier 2 or 3 colleges, the individual finds it hard to land a job at reputed technology companies including Google and Microsoft. However, now these companies have started hiring on the basis of competitive programming, even from unrecognised colleges and numerous college goers and freshers are taking advantage of CodeChef to bag positions in reputed firms.

Even school goers get more exposure from this platform, as some of the students from India have managed to crack tough international coding contests, which gives them the required boost at an early stage in their careers.

Kalbalia said that he along with his team reached out to global programming community, only to find out that the problem Indian coders face is due to starting off late. In other countries, students take up coding activities at school level, rather than learning a language (C or Java) in school. Solving problems practically comes at a later stage in college, which is a bit too late, he added.

He also shed light on ACM-ICPC, which is equivalent to the ‘Olympics of Programming’ and deals with competitive programming. Explaining that India has been performing ‘very poorly’ at this prestigious international programming event, he said, “In spite of the vast amount of intellectual talent available in the country, our performance has not been close to top notch.”

But CodeChef has drastically helped improve the scenario over the years, with the help of their intuitive ‘Go For Gold’ programme, which was launched in 2010, to help Indian programmers win the ACM-ICPC. A year after the launch of the Go for Gold Initiative, two Indian teams managed to do better than what any Indian team has ever done, at the ACM ICPC 2012 Warsaw finals.

The highest that an Indian team has ever ranked in the ACM-ICPC is 18, which was achieved by International Institute of Information (Hyderabad). So if anyone beats this score in years to come, that person/team will be awarded the next cash prize, under the Go For Gold programme.

However, the main point of organising initiatives such as the ‘Go For Gold’ programme is to increase awareness in India about these competitions and help increase the efficiency and prowess of coders in the country. Other than that it has a host of other contests and initiatives that offer a different perspective to programming and learning the skills in a fun manner.

CodeChef has over four lakh registered users across the globe, comprised of students from more than 8,500 educational institutes over 200 countries. In India, there are a total of 77 per cent users with Delhi topping the city list.

The initiative taken up by Directi, under the CodeChef program, is a great way for budding programmers to strengthen their skills and it will definitely play a key role in enhancing the coding community in India. While this platform is helping increase awareness about core coding programmes, Kalbalia said that the government also needs to take some ‘minimal’ steps to improve the orthodox education structure in India, which is not enough to build up a strong base.

In his message to budding student programmers, he asked them to be passionate about learning and enjoying the subject rather than aiming for ‘fat salary packages’. Also, he concluded that the nifty courses will only work when there is increased awareness, and that’s exactly what he and the whole team at Directi is aiming for.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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