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When Google Doesn’t Know the Answer in Their Own Competition, Everybody Wins

When Google Doesn’t Know the Answer in Their Own Competition, Everybody Wins

Less than a month ago, registrations opened for Google I/O 2012. It was sold out in 20 minutes. This didn’t go down exactly as planned. According to Google themselves, server load immediately exceeded the number of tickets they had available. Registration was hit-or-miss, and certainly not first-come-first-serve basis, as promised. Google had also hinted that a coding challenge would be part of the registration process, so more developers and fewer swag-hunters would get in. But for reasons unknown, this didn’t actually happen. More than a few of those who managed to obtain actual tickets tried to sell them on eBay for obscene markups, while many disappointed would-be Google Goers took to social networks to cry their dismay.

But all was not yet lost! Google held back 100 tickets that could be won in a competition, as they did last year. The key difference? Last year you won the ticket, whereas this year you won the opportunity to buy the ticket—at twice the price of last year’s ticket. This year’s contest was also announced only a day before it took place, and the timing was awkward for many. Those who could actually free up the time from their jobs on such short notice, and were not deeply asleep at the time of the challenge, now had a real chance of being allowed to purchase a ticket.

At 7:00 AM at Google HQ, a virtual shot was fired, and the challenge began. So far so good. Some time into the competition, comments were heard from frustrated developers who simply could not figure out what they were doing wrong. They felt the assignment conditions were being satisfied, and couldn’t find where they made mistakes. Why was Google Code Jam claiming their answers were incorrect, while other developers’ answers were being accepted ?

This didn’t last very long, as one developer finally figured it out: Google was only accepting incorrect answers! It seems that Google was not taking an edge case into account in their own answer to problem A. It meant that every answer for problem A that had already been accepted either was wrong or didn’t contain the edge case, while many correct answers were being marked as incorrect and penalized.  As this is the first of two problems, it also meant that those stuck with this problem didn’t progress quickly to problem B. Time is a deciding factor in these challenges, so all results and rankings were essentially invalidated.

As one might expect from any crowd consisting primarily of individuals of the basement-dwelling variety (myself included), outrage ensued. It will come as no surprise to anybody that Google took their sweet time coming up with any response at all, but finally word arrived:

“We’ve made a mistake in problem A. The correct output is 0, but it is being judged as wrong because 4 of our problem writers have independently made the same bug in their solutions. We would like to apologize for the confusion this has caused. We will send an email to all participants shortly, announcing our plan to resolve this issue in the least unfair manner possible. We take a lot of precautions to prevent mistakes like this, but we have messed up this time.”

Of course, everybody makes mistakes—it is only human. But when your company is known for only wanting to hire the best of the best, and is rumored to hire only 0.5% of all applicants, having all four of the engineers who created this challenge make the same trivial mistake in a fairly basic assignment raises some serious questions—namely why didn’t they hire any of the developers who actually got the answer right? ;)

But wait. You didn’t think it actually stopped there, did you? Not only was Google’s own answer to the challenge wrong, but several developers taking part in the challenge came forward claiming the actual assignments had already been online for roughly an hour the day before the challenge. They were (at that time) thought to be practice assignments, but those who happened to check-in at that time potentially already had the answers before the competition even began.

As has been debated in the Google Plus thread there doesn’t seem to be a fair solution possible other than giving all the participants the chance to purchase a ticket. And guess what? Google just announced all participants will be offered the chance to buy a ticket. It seems this rather hilarious situation has a happy ending after all!

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