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Facebook hoists 'Hacker Cup' engineer challenge

The social network invites developers to enter a series of online algorithmic programming challenges, with 25 top finishers going to Facebook's headquarters for the finals.


There's a scene in the film "The Social Network" in which a fictionalized version of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds a developer challenge that involves programming at breakneck pace and pounding frequent shots of alcohol. The real Facebook "Hacker Cup" developer challenge, which the company announced last night, will probably be a little different. We hope.

The Hacker Cup, an "annual algorithmic programming contest open to hackers from around the world," is open to entries starting Dec. 20 and will consist of three online elimination rounds followed by finals at Facebook's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., for the top 25 hackers. The grand prize is $5,000--but the unofficial prize for many of the top finishers will likely be exposure to some of Silicon Valley's top executives and engineering minds, especially at a time when competition for top-notch developer talent among the likes of Facebook and Google is at a high point.

They don't mean "hacker" in the nefarious sense (necessarily). "Hack," which is inscribed on the front doors of Facebook's headquarters, is Zuckerberg's preferred term for fast, often all-night-long coding work--with the optimal results, as was the case with Facebook itself, shaking up both the user experience and the developer environment. The competitive, caffeinated energy of the company's no-frills offices was a highlight of last weekend's "60 Minutes" spotlight on Facebook, in which the mainstream newsmagazine seemed surprised and even a little baffled by a corporate environment in which even break times turn into speed chess tournaments.

In the past, Facebook has hosted challenges for start-ups to raise seed funding and "incubator" resources, but this is the first time that it's launched a public contest for individual developers.