Eyeing a Future in Which Software Development Is a Spectator Sport

    Last week, I wrote about how CodeFights, a coding competition platform provider in San Francisco, is being tapped as a resource to recruit software talent by enabling developers to demonstrate their skills in competitions with prospective employers’ automated bots. An even more intriguing dimension of what CodeFights is doing is the notion that software development will one day become a spectator sport.

    As mentioned in my previous post, which stemmed from a recent interview with CodeFights founder and CEO Tigran Sloyan, the visionary CEO sees his company’s recruitment platform more fundamentally as an education platform to strengthen and test people’s development skills. Recruiting is the company’s revenue generator, Sloyan said, based on a standard headhunting model in which CodeFights is paid a recruiting fee when an engineer is hired. As the company gains momentum as an education and gaming platform, recruiting will still be the moneymaker, he said:

    If you look at Facebook and Google, they are not advertising companies, even though their business is entirely based on advertising. Just as Google’s primary focus is its search engine, and Facebook is focused on its social network, CodeFights will be focused on bringing in the rest of the world to learn programming, and to sharpen their skills. Recruiting will still make the money, but it will be sort of a byproduct of what we do on the consumer end, just like [advertising] is for Facebook and Google.

    Sloyan went on to describe his vision of coding as a spectator sport:

    Part of the appeal of the site, and why it got so popular, is that it’s a very social activity. It lets you play with your coworkers, your friends, to compare your skills. The way it works is like other sports and games—you get matched up against one person, or against a group of other people, and you’re timed in trying to accomplish a task better than the others.

    I’m pretty sure when somebody proposed the idea of making poker a spectator sport, people were skeptical about it. When you think about it, poker is essentially a bunch of nerdy guys sitting around a table, trying not to move their face muscles. But it’s actually very popular, and I think one reason is the commentators, who help you understand exactly what’s going on, and what these people are thinking, so you’re watching and thinking what you would do. How would you act in that situation? You become involved in the whole experience.

    Right now, almost everybody is trying to get into computer science, and to learn at least a little bit of software programming. At some point, we’ll have live CodeFights, where people actually sit and watch it.

    Sloyan said another example is eSports:

    ESports started as something nobody would watch; now, millions of people go to stadiums to watch a couple of guys play World of Warcraft. Why? Because they understand it, and they can join the player in experiencing what he’s doing, and what he’s thinking.

    We think the same concept can be applied to coding, where you watch a super smart engineer solve an interesting coding challenge, and you can understand his thinking process. You can see it in the coding, you can see him facing issues, you can see him figuring out what he did wrong, and finally finding a solution. I think for people who understand it—and I hope that will be the large majority of people in the future—it will be super fun.

    I mentioned a Business Insider story about CodeFights that was headlined, “This startup thinks competitive programming could be more popular than college football,” and I asked Sloyan if he really believes that. He chuckled over the hyperbole, but he didn’t disagree:

    You know, journalists tend to exaggerate a little bit, but I don’t see why not. I think eSports is my favorite example, because nobody ever thought eSports would be so popular. Now, it’s starting to almost fill up stadiums larger than soccer stadiums—and soccer is obviously a lot more popular than college football. So I believe getting to that point depends mostly on who’s involved in it. A lot of young people nowadays play online multiplayer games, and that’s what started the eSports revolution.

    Software is overtaking the world—at some point, in any profession, you’re going to need to know at least the basics of programming to be a successful professional. Just like everybody knows how to read, and knows some basic math, I think in the future, everybody will know at least the basics of programming. If that’s the case, I think CodeFights, as a spectator game, can be just as popular as college football.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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