Competitive Programming is a niche in the software industry that has garnered a lot of interest recently. As any seasoned professional may tell you, the skills, you pick up while programming competitively may not directly translate to the work you shall be expected to do as a programmer. Well, that is not entirely true. While yes, competitive programming is not the entire bundle of the job role of a software developer; it honest a skill that is scarce in the industry- optimization. Optimized code is the backbone of a robust system yet, a lot of the products out there are oblivious to the performance improvements. That results in medium-sized enterprise products to take north of 30 seconds to produce results. That is quite problematic for two reasons: firstly, mission-critical software that your client depends upon quickly turns them away from your offerings. Secondly, the problem compounds exponentially during scaling. This is where optimization of code comes in.
So, how does one learn to write optimized code in this process of competitive programming? Competitive programming presents algorithmic questions to the solver with constraints — namely, time and space constraints. In an ideal world, time would be abundant to present a solution and use as much space as possible. Then, optimization holds little value. However, we live in a world with scarce resources. Let us take the problem of finding a number in a series of random numbers. A layman’s approach would be to sequentially go through the series to either find the match or realize that the number we are looking for is not in the input series. This means, in a series of 10 numbers, we would check ten times, once for each number. Can this be achieved in a better way? Well, yes. If the series was in ascending order, we should check the middle element. If that is not the number we are looking for and it is less than the number desired, we can neglect the numbers before the middle element. Why, you ask? Because all those numbers are in ascending order and hence, lesser than the middle element itself. This reduces how many times we need to compare an element, hence, optimizing our approach. The latter approach is known as the binary search.
Well, optimized code is one thing, what is the competition about if everyone is essentially solving the same problem? The way this is set up, programmers earn points based on factors of time taken and space consumed. And even if the approach is identical, there are a lot of technical things working in the background. For example, in Java, you can store a set of numbers in a HashSet or an EnumSet. They provide the same functionality, and yet, one is superior to the other. How? Just the way the inbuilt functions have been implemented. Those who have dedicated a lot of their efforts towards this niche often rewrite standard library functions that you and I use and take for granted. What is the pay off here, though?
Other than the wealth of knowledge amassed, there is a lot of wealth to be amassed in itself. As we talked about the problems of unoptimized code during scalability, think of how the major tech products you use are void of such obstacles. This is because FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) keep track of the top performers and offer them rather lucrative deals to work for them. And the tech industry in India has taken note of this. Wipro recently bought TopCoder, one of the premier platforms for competitive programming in the world. Many recruiters watch such platforms like a hawk to recruit this talent.
While competitive programming does not give the taste of real-life software development, it preserves the essence of programming, a challenge, or a problem to be solved. And with time-based competitions, the pressure gets intense. And you learn to cope up with the stress that entails. Before computers were ubiquitous, they were merely a challenge to be conquered. Today, any four-year degree in computers takes you through a history of basic programming to functioning to theoretical concepts. One hardly touches upon how to get the most out of it. Only some of the best online coding courses attempt to address this critical aspect of programming. At Coding Ninjas, we make sure coders can stand out in the world of competitive programming and face real-life software development situations with our comprehensive courses and modules.
As the devices get smaller yet more powerful, their abilities need to be developed to get the most out of them. To deliver more than it takes already. Competitive programming is a lot of things, especially how to think logically.
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