He’s been recognized as the top 2% best coders in the world. He’s ranked #1 – #3 in prestigious competitions 4 years in a row in the Arab region before evolving to the judge level.
Ahmed Aly consistently has LinkedIn InMail from all of the best tech companies in Silicon Valley as attempts to poach him away from the almighty Google.
“HackerRank’s Vivek [Ravisankar] was the only message I replied to because I really like what HackerRank’s doing. And I think this is the field where I can do my best. I can do what I love doing,” he says.
After running Google Jam, an online coding competition with over 56,000 registrants for several years, he wants to help HackerRank take the coding community to another level.
Answering a Calling for Competitive Programming
When Aly serendipitously discovered the rip-roaring world of competitive coding at 20-years-old, all bets were off. With each new challenge under his belt, a dose of passion for the competitive sport pumped into his veins. A lifelong tunnel formed around Aly’s mind with a singular goal: Dominate coding competitions.
He started skipping classes for competitions. Grades started falling. He was supposed to graduate from Cairo University a year early, but he lost that head start. Even after graduation, he quit his software engineering job to focus on his last ACM regional contest training.
Nothing could stop him from pursuing this newfound passion for enduring new challenges. And it never would have happened if it weren’t for a college friend who happened to back out of an ACM challenge last minute.
“You need 3 people to enter, so my two friends just needed a body–anybody–to be able to enter, so I just joined,” he says.
It’s funny what happens when you’re open to new experiences. This small favor to a friend turned into a lifelong passion.
Those of you involved in competitive coding know that starting at the age of 20 is actually considered ancient. We occassionally receive fan mail from 10-year-old aspiring programmers who love solving challenges. Since most coders start in grade school, Aly was pretty late to the game.
But that only made Aly more determined. Back in 2007, there weren’t too many resources for folks trying to learn competitive coding strategies–fast. So, Aly built his own.
Aly is most famously known for creating A2 Online Judge, a website that aggregates ample coding challenges from 14 different coding contest websites. It offers the opportunity for passionate coders to create problems, use valuable resources for practicing, a community of people to chat with and much more.
He single handedly built this community as a hobby while holding down school and then full-time job upon graduating. He blasted through a million lines of code for his baby, A2OJ, with its servers still maintained in his garage. The community’s grown to over 30,000 registered users and 600,000 page views per month.
He might have been relatively behind compared to some of the other coders who started while he was playing video games, but he raced ahead and dominated the industry as becoming a judge for numerous prestigious competitions, including ACM and Google Jam.
Goodbye Google, Hello HackerRank!
For the last 3.5 years, Aly has been working on Google’s coveted search algorithm for 80% of his time. In the other 20%, Aly ran the entire Google Code Jam operation.
But Aly’s undying passion for competitive programming swelled enough to make him grow restless. He wanted to turn that 20% into 100% of his time.
“When I work on A2OJ or Code Jam, it didn’t feel like work. I never get tired,” he says. “I did this because I want to do what I love. If you do what you love, then you’ll always be good at it.”
The HackerRank team is thrilled to welcome Aly to the team. We’re excited to infuse his expertise into our larger vision of transforming the paradigm of tech recruiting. The melding of his brilliant mind and passion will help HackerRank innovate by turning coding challenges into the default, 21st century resume.
We also sat down with Ahmed to reflect about his achievements thus far. Hear from the master himself:
Ahmed, what advice do you have for people who want to become great programmers like you?
Don’t try to solve harder problems unless you are really good at solving the easier ones. That means solve a lot of really easy problems (that could be hundreds), that will improve your coding skills, which should be the easiest skill to gain. Then go to little bit harder problems, and so on.
Who was pivotal to your success?
The Great Fegla, that’s how we call him, his real name is Mohamed Abdelwahab, he was my coach for the ACM ICPC competitions. He isn’t just my coach, he is my friend and like my brother. I learned a lot from him, and I’m still learning. He changed me from a loser student who fails in many courses to a good student and programer. More details here.
“Practice by solving a lot of problems; then compete against the problem set, not against the other teams,” he often told me.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
People usually don’t believe me when I say this, but while studying in college, I failed in the following courses (got less than 50% grade): Computer Programming 1, Computer Programming 2 and Data Structures.
Want a chance to chat with Ahmed? Sign up for World Cup, the ultimate university CodeSprint. The winner gets to video chat with Ahmed Aly!