It's a brutal cerebro al cerebro competition. During the Coding phase, contestants in groups of 10 enter virtual rooms in the Competition Arena -- a Java application -- and confront the same set of two or three programming problems, each more difficult than the last. The object is to solve the problems in the shortest amount of time.
A Challenge phase follows, where competitors view each other's code and try to "break" it by posing a specific test case to return a problematic result. Points are awarded for successful challenges and deducted for failed ones.
Google flew the 100 finalists to its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to compete in the championship round.
In a statement, Alan Eustace, VP of engineering and research, noted that this year's Google Code Jam saw more than twice as many participants as last year's event.
Beyond its significance as a celebration of geek prowess, the competition is both a clever recruiting event and a recruiting event for the clever. "There are smart, talented problem solvers who participate in competitions such as the Google Code Jam, and we're always interested in meeting more people in these technical roles," Google spokeswoman Eileen Rodriguez explained via E-mail. "We've hired some people through the Google Code Jam, and we're continually exploring opportunities to find more bright, talented engineers to join our team."
The competition also is an effective yardstick to measure Google's desirability as a potential employer among tomorrow's IT luminaries. Stephen Arnold, author of "The Google Legacy: How Google's Internet Search Is Transforming Application Software," suggests that the contest's soaring popularity among students reflects the esteem for Google that eminently employable IT leaders like Vint Cerf and Kai-Fu Lee demonstrate by joining the company.
Google receives 1,500 resumes a day for all positions worldwide.
For Cygan, the real contest has yet to come. According to Rodriguez, "If he's interested in pursuing a job opportunity at Google, he will go through the same interview process as any other candidate."