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Google selects Code Jam finalists

Programmers from around the world will gather at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to compete for the global Code Jam finals.

Programmers compete for spots at the Google Code Jam finals in Mountain View, Calif., in November.
Marguerite Reardon/CNET News

NEW YORK--Top programmers from across the Americas competed Monday for spots in the finals of Google's global Code Jam 2008 competition.

About 488 programmers from North America, Central America, and South America made it to the semifinal round of competition in the Code Jam 2008 contest, which was held at Google's offices here and in Mountain View, Calif., Seattle, and Brazil.

These coders were winnowed down from a field of 11,000 participants. The competition, which began in July, involves three rounds of timed problem solving tasks designed to test coding and critical thinking skills. Top winners in each of three regions are competing in the semifinal round of the competition to decide who gets to compete in the finals in Mountain View later this year.

Winners have already been selected from the Asia-Pacific region. Monday's competition aimed to select the winners from the Americas. And competitors from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa will compete next week.

About 100 winners from the semifinal round will meet up November 14 for the last round of the competition where finalists will compete for more than $80,000 in cash prizes.

First prize in the competition is $10,000 with $5,000 going to the second-place winners. Others in the competition will also receive cash prizes. While this competition is not necessarily a recruiting effort, Google is offering job interviews to all semifinalists who choose to take them.

But for most competitors, it's not about the money or the possibility of working for Google or even a free trip to a Google office. It's about having fun.

"I'd say only about a dozen people, who are at that upper level of programming, win most of the money in these competitions," said 24-year old Po-Ru Loh, a Ph.D. student in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "For the rest of us, it's just a good time."

Loh didn't qualify for the finals the first time Google offered the competition in 2003. But he has qualified twice before in 2004 and 2006. If his score is high enough Monday, this will be his third time at the Code Jam final.

Code Jam competitors take some time to eat snacks at Google after their two-hour programming competition Marguerite Reardon/CNET News

His buddy, Josh Metzler, 31, whom he met at the 2004 Google Code Jam final, agrees that money is not what motivated him to compete.

"I'm here really because it's fun," he said. "Honestly, the money at stake isn't worth much compared to working. But it's fun to meet all these people in person."

Neither Loh nor Metzler are looking for jobs at Google either. Loh, who has interned for Google in the past, said he's committed to academia for now. And Metzler, who has a wife and three kids in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he isn't looking to relocate for a Google job.

Jeanne Williams, who runs the Code Jam program for Google, said that the competition isn't necessarily about recruiting new talent, although that's a nice side benefit. Instead, it's really just an opportunity to support computer scientists and give programmers interesting problems and challenges to work on.