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TopCoder is a company which administers contests in Computer programming. TopCoder hosts weekly online algorithm competitions — known as SRMs or "single round matches" — as well as weekly competitions in design and development. The work in design and development produces useful software which is licensed for profit by TopCoder. Competitors involved in the creation of these components are paid royalties based on these sales. The software resulting from algorithm competitions — and the less-frequent marathon matches — is not usually directly useful, but sponsor companies sometimes provide money to pay the victors. Statistics (including an overall "rating" for each developer) are tracked over time for competitors in each category.

Types of competitionsEdit

  • Algorithms (competition length about 2 hours): Competitors are given a set (usually three) of algorithmic problems and have 75 minutes to correctly solve as many as they can.
  • Design (competition length 1 week): Competitors are given a set of user requirements and attempt to convert them into a usable software design specification. Their efforts are judged on a variety of "real-world" criteria on how correct and practical their design is.
  • Development (competition length 1 week): Competitors are given a set of design specification and attempt to write software components that match those specification. These components are judged on their functionality and coding style.
  • Marathon Matches (competition length 1 or 2 weeks): Contestants are given a particularly difficult algorithmic problem. The scoring is done by computer based on criteria specifically suited to the problem.
  • Studio (competition length ?): Contestants are asked to show off their creative skills in a competitive environment.

Newly added competitionsEdit

  • Architecture
  • Assembly TopCoder has created Assembly Competitions as an extension of Component Design and Development Competitions. Through these competitions, competitors create high quality applications using completed components and TopCoder's established competitive method.
  • Testing
  • Bug Races Project teams, clients and members are able to log bugs they find in software developed and supported by TopCoder. TopCoder will communicate these bugs to the member community. Bugs that are open to the community will be posted on the Active Bug Races page.

Algorithm competitionsEdit

TopCoder has been hosting algorithm competitions since 2001. Current SRMs consist of four phases:

  • Coding phase (75 minutes): Coders write programs to solve three short problems using C++, Java (programming language), C Sharp (programming language), or Visual Basic. Each problem set consists of an easy, medium, and hard question, the difficulty of which is reflected in each problem's point value. The problems' point values vary from match to match; a common point value distribution is 250-500-1000. Also, the quicker a coder writes a given problem, the more points that coder gets.
  • Intermission (5 minutes): After the coding phase ends, there is a short break before the challenge phase begins. This time can be used to think of challenge cases.
  • Challenge phase (15 minutes): Coders can challenge the submitted problems of other participants in their room by constructing test cases in an attempt to generate erroneous output. The challenger receives 50 points for a successful challenge (the challenged coder loses all his points for that problem), and loses 25 points for an unsuccessful challenge. Each successful challenge is added to the set of tests to be run during the system testing phase.
  • System-testing phase: Each problem that survives through the challenge phase is run on many test cases. If a coder's solution fails the system tests, that coder receives no points for the problem.

At the end of the contest, ratings are updated to incorporate each participating coder's performance.

Component design and development competitionsEdit

TopCoder hosts design and development competitions in which coders can compete to create components and applications that are either generally useful, or that third parties have contracted for.

TopCoder design and development competitions are week-long competitions. New components are posted every Thursday and coders can choose a component from a list of Java (programming language) and .NET components, and they have a week to design or develop their chosen component. Each week new components are posted. Development components are generally components that have been designed in a previous component design contest.

Marathon matchesEdit

Larger problems than are asked during a traditional TopCoder algorithm round are posted. They provide a more flexible competition format with an extended timeline. Since June 2008, the Marathon Matches will focus on encryption technology.


  • TopCoder Open: An annual event which features algorithm, design, and development competitions in a tournament structure, culminating in a live finale for the top competitors.
  • TopCoder Collegiate Challenge: An annual event in which college students compete for money and school glory. In 2008, TopCoder decided not to continue this tournament.
  • TopCoder High School: An annual event in which high school students compete for scholarship and school glory. This tournament was started in 2007


TopCoder initially awarded money every week to Coders who did well in the weekly competitions, or Single Round Matches (SRMs). For a while, prize money was only awarded twice a year to winners and finalists of the TopCoder Collegiate Challenge (TCCC, which is in the spring) and the TopCoder Open (formerly the Invitational, which is in the fall). As of June 2005, some weekly SRMs began to once again award prize money, being sponsored by outside companies such as Google and Yahoo!.


As of July 23, 2008 163,351 people have registered at the TopCoder website. 17.3% of those registered have participated in at least one Algorithm competition, 0.3% in Design, 0.7% in Development and 1.5% in Marathon Matches.

Competitions, ratings, and divisionsEdit

In the early days, the Iron Man system was set up under which coders were grouped into rooms of ten according to skill level (determined by rating, similar to ELO chess rating), in order to encourage newcomers (who would have little hope of beating out the best coders for prize money) to stay and compete. After the contest, the 3 highest scoring coders in each room were paid according to the skill level of the room (winners in the room of contestants with the top 10 ratings were paid more than those in the room with coders 11-20, and so on). This created some paradoxical situations such as the possibility of coming fourth in the whole contest and getting no money, while the 111th placed contestant got paid, and gave rise to ratings diving. Ratings diving, or taking a ratings dive was accomplished simply by doing very poorly on purpose in a particular contest (by opening and not submitting any problems or submitting incorrect challenges). As a result, a contestant would, in their next contest, be placed in a room with 9 coders among whom they had a good chance of winning some money. The idea was that the dramatically increased chance of winning money made up for the fact that the money to be won was a lesser amount given the lower average rating of the room.

Coders have since been divided into two divisions, Division I and Division II. Division I consists of all coders with a rating of at least 1200, and Division II consists of all coders with a rating of 1199 or less. Coders are grouped in rooms with other members of their division, in groups of up to 20 coders in such a way that within each division, the average coder ratings in each of the rooms are roughly equal.

Past Tournament Winners Edit

Here are the past tournament winners in all 5 categories: Algorithm, Design, Development, Marathon and Studio:

Tournament Algorithm Design Development Marathon Studio
2001 Collegiate Challenge qubits
2001 Invitational jonmac
2002 Collegiate Challenge dmwright
2002 Invitational John Dethridge
2003 Collegiate Challenge dgarthur
2003 Open tomek Pops rnielsen
2004 Collegiate Challenge tomek aksonov roma
2004 Open tomek adic Standlove
2005 Collegiate Challenge mathijs adic gladius
2005 Open Eryx nicka81 visualage
2006 Open Petr Pops sindu
2006 Collegiate Challenge Petr nicka81 PE
2007 High School Burunduk2
2007 Open Jan_Kuipers kyky hefeng Mojito1 yiming
2007 Collegiate Challenge Petr nicka81 PE paranoia abedavera
2008 High School ahyangyi
2008 Open tomek Pops romanoTC Psyho oninkxronda

TopCoder as a businessEdit

The Business plan behind TopCoder comprises several objectives. One goal is to be a recruitment center where companies can come to find programmers who are proven to be highly skilled, and where talented programmers can display their skills to a worldwide audience. Large companies sponsor TopCoder events to gain credibility with and exposure to talented developers. TopCoder also sells software licenses to use the growing body of components that have been developed in competition. Finally, TopCoder acts as an Outsourcing center, allowing companies to farm out custom design and development tasks to TopCoder competitors.

See also Edit

  • ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC)
  • ICFP Programming Contest
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