CodeWars, where development ninjas square off for honor (and possibly jobs?)

By Michael Carney , written on November 30, 2012

From The News Desk

Sharpen your developer swords because there’s about to be a Codewar. The newest concept out of Los Angeles is a gamified “Hacker Society” where coders compete, sharpen their skills, and earn respect. What’s more interesting is the opportunity for the site to produce a quantifiable metric for development ability – a “hacker score.” There might be a few groups willing to pay for that, wouldn’t you say?

As trivial as it may sound, developers are often motivated by challenges far more than by money. It’s the reason the best and brightest want to work for the companies solving the most difficult problems, not just the ones offering the best compensation packages. It’s also the reason why since the beginning of the PC era enterprising young hackers have pulled stunts like hacking the CIA, or major corporations. Deep inside the hacker ethos is a desire to prove one’s ability. CodeWars plans to tap into this fundamental desire to galvanize and unite developers around important technical challenges.

CodeWars launched into private beta just two weeks ago. At the time, a link to the company’s site shot to the top of the Hacker News message board, earning 88 points and 67 comments to this point. In the 48 hours that followed, the startup site attracted more than 10,000 unique visitors from around the world and saw 34,000 code “Katas” (or challenges) attempted. The demographics of this early crowd were quite impressive as well. 66 percent of CodeWars’ active users have four or more years of coding experience, while 25 percent have ten plus years.

Anyone is invited to apply for access to the CodeWars Dojo during beta, but only the best will be accepted. To apply, coders must complete three Katas. Coding Katas are currently based on the JavaScript language, primarily for its universal nature, but the site will eventually expand to include all programming languages. When the Katas are completed successfully, a survey gathers information about development experience and skills, and finally  users are asked to link their GitHub accounts (a developer social network and code repository). Each step along the way offers honor points. Those earning the most points are listed on a leaderboard titled “the Honorable.”

CodeWars was founded in July during a Los Angeles Startup Weekend by its CEO Nathan Doctor – who looks surprisingly like Adrien Grenier – and CTO Jake Hoffner – who if you squint a little, isn’t that dissimilar from a skinnier Jerry Ferrara, aka “Turtle.” But that’s neither here nor there.

Codewars v. Entourage

This is not the first time anyone’s thought about gamifying a coding ecosystem. There’s 4Clojure, KnowledgeBlackbelt, InterviewStreet, HackerRank, and others. Each has their own twist on the model, but CodeWars and a few early angel investors who have backed the company – CodeWars is in the process of raising a seed round and has already attracted some prominent LA figures – are confident that they have enough tricks up their sleeves to stand out. One of the primary differentiators for CodeWars is its crowdsourced model. The site plans to source both problem sets and solution grading through its crowd. The rest, we’ll have to wait and see.

At the end of the day, the company has two obvious business models, although it is holding off on pursuing either for the time being. The first is recruiting. With the equivalent of a “hacker score” and coding portfolio for every user on its site, CodeWars will be able to offer hiring companies better insight into the particular skill set of a potential employee than is available elsewhere. Second, the company could easily compete with Workio and others to offer a skills marketplace where development projects are submitted for bidding amongst the community.

CodeWars is still in its early stages, but the site seems to have struck a chord with its core audience. If the founders can keep pushing the competitive buttons of this ultra-valuable audience, then this could be the kind of company that weaves itself into the fabric of the technology community. If nothing else, it should be exremely entertaining to watch.