Facebook brings back the hack

In its third annual Hacker Cup, Facebook is inviting programmers to rapidly solve programming challenges

In an effort to challenge programmers worldwide, Facebook has brought back its Hacker Cup contest for a third round, the company announced Wednesday.

"Hacking is core to how we build at Facebook," wrote Facebook mobile engineer David Alves in a blog post announcing the contest. Company engineers are "always hacking to find better ways to solve problems," he said.

Facebook is using the original definition of "hacker," referring not to someone who breaks into computer systems, but rather to an individual who "enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities," to borrow the definition from the canonical online computer slang dictionary The Jargon File.

The first four rounds of the contest will be held online, starting Jan. 28. The top 25 finalists will be flown to Facebook's headquarters on March 27 for a final round. The winner will be awarded US$5,000, and three runners-up will be awarded cash prizes as well.

The contest consists of successive sets of increasingly difficult algorithmic problems. Scoring will be based on how accurately and quickly the programmers complete the puzzles. Last year's contest featured challenges such as determining the optimum number of shield generators and warriors one should acquire for the Facebook game Starcraft II and calculating the best race car driving strategy given a variable number of opponents, race track curves and likelihood of crashing.

For each problem, the participant is given a set of inputs and an explanation of the problem. They have six minutes to submit an answer, along with the source code used to solve the problem. Participants can use any programming language, as well as language-extending libraries and even complete programs, such as a spreadsheet.

Last year's Hacker Cup got off to a rough start. Some users on the Quora social networking site complained that the contest's procedures were confusing and sometimes contradictory. The social networking giant had improved the process by the end of the contest, though, participants reported.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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