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Recent programming ability rankings indicate NC State computer science students are among the best in the nation. CodinGame, a competitive programming platform, ranks NC State No. 1 in the United States and No. 8 in the world. HackerRank, another company that ranks programmers based on their programming abilities, ranks NC State students at No. 11 nationally and No. 68 internationally. 

According to David Sturgill, a teaching assistant professor in the computer science department who teaches a class in competitive problem solving, these rankings are a reflection of how competitive the best programmers in the department are.

“I think this ranking reflects what some of our students are doing to keep themselves challenged and to make sure they stay competitive with the best students from anywhere in the world,” Sturgill said.

To develop their rankings, CodinGame computed the average scores of the five best coders from schools on the platform, according to its website. These scores are based on how well participants complete various programming challenges and puzzles. HackerRank hosted a University Rankings Competition in late 2016, attended by over 5,500 students from 126 schools, according to its website, and based the rankings on the results from that competition.

Among the top American competitors in both CodinGame and HackerRank’s standings are Georgia Tech, MIT, University of Illinois, Purdue University and San Jose State University. Internationally, French schools dominate CodinGame’s top charts, although CodinGame admits, that being a French company, “this geography bias is unavoidable.” And a high school in China, Sun Yat-sen Memorial, placed second overall in HackerRank’s ratings. 

Kai Presler-Marshall, a senior studying computer science, isn't surprised that NC State did so well on a national scale in CodinGame and HackerRank’s standings. Presler-Marshall, a teaching assistant for software engineering, says part of the reason is the skill that exists among computer science students at NC State.

“The Computer Science department has so many great programmers," Presler-Marshall said.

He also credits professors like Sturgill, who teaches 200-level computer science classes, for creating assignments that contribute to the development of students’ abilities.

“Sturgill is always coming up with interesting, challenging assignments,” Presler-Marshall said.

Indeed, the rankings may in part be a reflection of the education students get through the computer science department. Will Fowler, a senior studying computer science, said that the department tries to assign projects that prepare students for programming outside the university.

“They accurately reflect the type of stuff we would actually do after college,” Fowler said.

Fowler names software engineering as one class that provides such experience. He also said that the curriculum is a “unique blend” of classes and projects that give an overview of computer science. He believes this more comprehensive computer science education may be somewhat unique to NC State, contrasting it with his friends’ experiences in other computer science departments around the country.

Ken Tate, the director of development and external relations for the NC State computer science department, points out that various rankings have different focuses. Some college rankings measure not just student ability, but the perception of the college as well. CodinGame and HackerRank, on the other hand, take a metric-based approach.

Tate said that rankings from groups like CodinGame and HackerRank that put NC State’s computer science near the top of the nation can help improve the public perception of the department. But, when asked if companies hiring computer science students consider the perception-based rankings, Tate was unsure as to whether they played a role.

“I don’t know that they pay any attention at all to them,” Tate said.

HackerRank, in the post accompanying their rankings, expressed a similar sentiment, making a case for other methods of finding programming talent.

“While the traditional academic rankings, like the U.S. News & World report, are one indicator of quality of education, it’s not the only place to find great coders,” it said in the post. “The students at Sun Yat-Sen prove you don’t even need a degree to be able to code well.”

While this may be true, Fowler points out that pursuing a computer science degree from NC State affords more than just coding abilities. Sturgill emphasizes the value of learning this way of thinking.

“Wherever your career takes you, being able to think like a programmer will always be valuable and maybe even fun,” Sturgill said.