Who is the Top Coder?

Coding as competitive sport?

You bet, complete with a famous ESPN anchor and $200,000 in prizes. It’s called the TopCoder Collegiate Challenge and the finals are being webcast live Friday thanks to sponsor AOL.

TopCoder is a major league for programming competitions, with the Collegiate Challenge being one of its biggest events.

The Collegiate Challenge final, occurring today in San Diego, is the culmination of months of qualifying heats that have been whittled down to the best 63 collegiate programmers on Earth.

Think coding is not a spectator sport?

With an AOL webcast expected to start here at 1:30 p.m. PST today and anchored by ESPN sportscasting celebrity Jeremy Schaap, you might change your mind.

TopCoder President and COO Rob Hughes said it will take more than just coding skills to win the title.

“Because our competitions demand a combination of online and on site performance, the level of composure under pressure required to win it all is significant,” Hughes told internetnews.com.

“The traits are simply logical thinking, technical know-how and steadiness under bright lights and an ever expanding audience of spectators.”

Though it’s not clear at this point who will win, one thing is for sure: the favorite going into the tournament isn’t going to win it all.

“The odds-on favorite and number one seed in the tournament was eliminated in the first on site elimination round on Wednesday and did not advance to Friday’s final,” Hughes said.

“So, yes I expect someone who was not favored, to win it all — and the match Friday is anyone’s game.”

For AOL, sponsorship of the TopCoder event and the webcast are all about enhancing and expanding what AOL CTO John McKinley referred to as, “the architecture of participation.”

McKinley noted that AOL recognizes that it needs more than just the innovation it produces internally to succeed in the modern tech economy.

For McKinley, the TopCoder engagement is part and parcel of AOL’s journey to open up.

“It’s all about engaging the top talent from the global Web community and that’s why TopCoder fits in so well with what we’re trying to do,” McKinley said.

“For us, it’s harnessing external innovation and arming them with AOL assets and services.”

There is also a payoff for AOL.

“The talent we get exposure to in terms of the people who participate in the TopCoder collegiate challenge are just the best of the best,” McKinley noted. “This is the equivalent of high stakes poker here.”

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