Facebook's Hacker Cup Called A Failure

Facebook's first inclusion of non-employees in the annual Hacker Cup has disgruntled some of the participants in the event, who complained of disorganization and miscommunication.

Facebook’s first inclusion of non-employees in a Hacker Cup has upset some of the outside participants in the event, who complained of disorganization and miscommunication.

A Quora thread today called “Facebook Hacker Cup = Resounding Failure” includes complaints copied and pasted from the event’s wall, along with additional gripes supplied in the comments section. The replies included a couple from engineers at the social network, responding to complaints about time zone confusion and bugs in the competition code.

The original Quora poster, Andrew Brown, said that the event page for the Hacker Cup accumulated malware and that it didn’t look like anyone even made an effort to remove the stuff. Perhaps the name of the competition — namely the word “hacker” — comes off to some as an open invitation to post bad code, and curate a whole collection of it.

That qualifies as a communication problem, which seems like the overarching theme of Brown’s gripes about the Cup. Perhaps Facebook ought to get its official communications staff more involved, and ideally do so in time for the next round of the competition. Maybe they could start out by editing the directions for the event. Like the Quora post says:

The information needed was spread over multiple events and pages, and not displayed prominently at all, especially important information such as the 6-minute time limit on submissions. The official rules stated that people should upload source code, but one comment in a long stream of them on the Facebook page (not event) said not to upload source code for the qualification rounds. This led to a lot of confusion amongst entrants; many of which submitted their source code along with the output in the submission box, and will no doubt be penalized by any program that automatically checks answers for correctness.

Participants didn’t have anywhere to turn with questions, and apparently asking fellow competitors only added to the confusion. Answering these questions sounds like a job description for someone at Facebook — either by staffing a live chat, or writing a database of answers to questions. Either would require a lot of resources and maybe the social network might not want to commit that much to the Cup. But, if people are posting online about dissatisfaction with the event, staffing a Hacker Help Desk becomes a public relations concern.

So Facebook Software Engineer David Alves did a nice job of responding to Brown on Quora, but because his response can’t exactly move to the top of the page on that site, the public relations team needs to get on the case. They appear to be pulling strings behind the scenes, as an update to the Hacker Cup’s wall says:

Hey everyone, we’re running a public test round of Hacker Cup to make sure no errors make it into the next real round. Anyone interested in jumping in and solving a few simple problems is more than welcome. The round will be open until 23:00 GMT on January 19.

What do you think Facebook should do to better manage the Hacker Cup? Should the next one revert to being only for employees or would that create additional problems?