It's official: the world's best coders come from Poland.
The Need for C team raced their virtual car to gold at the finals of the first ever coding world championships in Helsinki, Finland, on Tuesday evening. Officially called the 'Hello World Open 2014', the championships aim to change the public perception of coding and promote its practice.
"We think coding is cool. The perception of it within the general public is still outdated. We want to update the image of a stereotypical coder and inspire young people to start coding," says primary event organiser Ville Valtonen. "Not everybody should become a coder, but we would like to inspire as many as possible to give it a go."
The winning team is a good source of inspiration. After beating seven other finalist teams in a virtual car race using vehicles they created, team members Tomasz Zurkowski, Piotr Zurkowski and Wojciech Jaskowski have 3D medals around their necks and share €5,000.
Like all finalists they also — bizarrely — each took home axes courtesy of tool company Fiskars, one of the Finnish sponsors, alongside main organisers gaming giant Supercell and IT software consultancy Reaktor.
"The most surprising thing about the competition was the amount of people that have been really engaged in coding their bots. It was great experience to work and race with them, talking about strategies and possibilities," the Need for C team said.
Their road to becoming world champions started back in April when the team participated in the qualifying rounds of the Hello World Open with moe than 4,000 other coders from 92 countries. The teams of between one and three coders had to create a virtual race car with artificial intelligence so it could race autonomously against both opponents and changing track conditions.
Alongside Poland, seven more teams made the final in Helsinki: one from Slovakia, one from Finland, two from Brazil, and three from Russia. The cars faced off in front of a live audience with Need for C taking the prize.
However, fun was just one of the reasons for the championships.
"We believe it is important to promote coding to get more appreciation for it in general," said Ilkka Paananen, founder and CEO of Supercell, the company behind mobile gaming hits such as Clash of Clans and Hay Day. "All innovative digital services of the future will be built on top of great code. We need to start celebrating the super stars of this craft more widely, as these skills are so fundamental to our society going forward."
CEO of Reaktor Vesa Lauronen agrees. "Coding is everywhere, and it will only grow more and more prevalent in the future. I think it is really important for everyone to, at the very least, know the basics of how these things work. The point is not to try and turn everybody into coders, but we feel it is important to give everyone a chance to try it out."
"I really am amazed by the turnout [over 2,500 teams from 92 countries]. This is, after all, the first time we've ever hosted a competition of this magnitude and even in our first year of doing it, we've managed to reach so many interested developers," Valtonen said.
"We want to create the next generation of coding superheroes. That is to say, we want to make coders the role models that are worth looking up to. At the moment, six-year-olds usually want to become princesses, astronauts and firemen. If some of them answer the vexed question of 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' with 'a coder' after the competition is over then we've succeeded."