Coding Challenge LogoGreat programmers drive any successful tech organization, and great programmers can be hard to find.Fortunately, the Wikimedia Foundation has a unique advantage: millions of unique visitors, every single day.It’s Wikipedia’s global impact which has enabled us to mobilize hundreds of thousands of donors every year to support our mission in our annual fundraising campaign.

We wanted to find out if we could find some of the world’s best programmers using similar means, to cultivate potential future volunteers and job candidates.  Thus, the idea of the Coding Challenge was born.

This is, admittedly, an experiment, and we’re not entirely sure how it will go.  We’ve structured it like a contest, and contests can be tricky, because they have rules.  One of the most important rules: only one contestant per challenge can win The Grand Prize (an all-expenses paid trip to an eligible Wikimedia event).   We run the risk of creating an ultra-competitive environment, in which people care more about winning than about helping to build a better Wikipedia.

Let’s reiterate, then: the goal of the contest is to find the best programmers — and at WMF, we get to decide exactly what that means.  (See the part in the rules about “sole discretion”.)  And a great programmer must write great code, of course — but the greatest programmers know that it means a lot more than that, too.  Is the documentation good?  Have ideas been exchanged on the wikitech-l mailing list?  Were participants generous with their time and ideas?  Do we see those ideas proliferating through the code of others?

There’s also a lot of value in this contest even to those who don’t “win”.  Maybe there’s only one grand prize per challenge, but WMF can, and will, bestow accolades to everyone who writes good code and shares it with everyone else.  And those things matter: when a potential employer comes to call, and you can point to the nice folks at Wikipedia to vouch for your work, that’s no small thing.

There are great potential programmers all over the globe.  If we can convince even a small fraction of you to accept one of these challenges, we will consider this little experiment a resounding success.

The Coding Challenge will run until November 7, 2011, 23:59 UTC.

Greg DeKoenigsberg, Coding Challenge Coordinator
Erik Moeller, VP of Engineering and Product Development