"In universities and colleges, education resources are relatively fewer in comparison with many other countries, so students have less choices in their paths to programming," he said in the article. "Many great students end up obsessed with competitive programming since it’s one of the few paths."
Zang added that "China even has a big population of students who started programming in middle school and high school."
As for the efficacy of using the HackerRank data to determine the coding capabilities of a country, Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond said he needs to see more information.
"I have to wonder -- seems like you’d see more 'Unicorns' in China and Russia if that were truly the case," Hammond said of the claim that those countries dominate in coding skills. "And I’d rather have a good 'developer' or 'software engineer' than a 'coder' strictly speaking. I want creativity, business acumen, and design sensibility in addition to math skills and algorithm prowess."
Grady Booch, an IBM Fellow, chief scientist for Software Engineering and Watson/M at IBM Research and the creator of the Unified Modeling Language (UML), said he is not surprised by the HackerRank findings, based on the educational focus of both China and Russia.
However, he had three observations regarding HackerRank's findings. "First it points out the universality of computing," Booch said. "As Marc Andeessen points out -- software is eating the world and there is no better demonstration of this that software transcends all national, cultural, and gender boundaries."
Second, Booch said it should be an "object lesson" to educators and policymakers and companies in the United States that despite all the incredible advances the US has have made in computing, "we are not alone and software has a global market that embraces all the benefits and all the downsides of globalism."
And third, Booch told eWEEK, "While I celebrate the passion and the prowess of such Chinese and Russian developers, remember that developing, delivering, deploying and evolving software-intensive systems that matter requires much, much more than just great programmers. Design and architecture are perhaps even more important."
Meanwhile, Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC who focuses on software development among other issues, agreed with Hammond and Booch. Hilwa noted that HackerRank is sitting on some really interesting competitive coding data and can analyze it in any number of ways. However, concluding which country has the “best” programmers from this data is a bit like assuming that the countries with the most medals in the Olympics have the healthiest citizenry, he said.
"The reality is that different countries and cultures have more or less competitive attitudes with respect to competitive coding -- or athletics," Hilwa said.
In the US, for example, where there are five times more professional developers than there are in Russia, a smaller portion of developers tend to engage in competitive coding, Hilwa noted.
"In Russia or China, competitive coding is a more popular approach to prove suitability for jobs in a typically much smaller software industry," he said. "That is likely what is going on here."