For the last half a year I have been working on CodeChef and was proposing ideas on how to change the problemsetting practices (hopefully, for the best). For some time the changes were in brainstorming phase, but as of now many of them are implemented. Today we are ready to share the information with you. But first I would like to approach people who are going to close this blog without reading:
If you are not interested in CodeChef contests at all, I think you should change your mind. Monthly short contests (Cook-Off and Lunchtime) have interesting quality problems, on par with Codeforces in my opinion (not AtCoder level yet, but who are?). Long and Starters are more targeted to newbie participants, with more classical educational problems.
If you are interested in setting problems for regular contests, you might want to do it on CodeChef. Some reasons:
- You don't have to set the whole round, as we work on per problem basis.
- This may be especially interesting for proposers of hard problems — you don't have to come up with easy problems. You can also propose a lot of problems on your favourite topics, as we won't put all of them in one contest.
- Your problem will be reviewed by me, discussed with me and then maybe enhanced. You might have different views on my persona, but it is hard to deny that I'm pretty good at this stuff.
- In normal circumstances your problem will be reviewed less than a week since submitting proposal. (You might have to wait for it to be used in contest though)
- We are pretty low on harder problems, so if you propose a (good) Medium+ problem you can expect it to be used soon.
- We pay more. I know, I know, we do it not for the money. But it is a nice bonus, isn't it?
With that sorted, let's take a closer look at what have we changed.
Some of the changes are internal and it's hard to show them, but hopefully those changes will simplify the life of contest admins and they will have more time and energy to work with problemsetters and oversee the contest preparation.
- We have separated reviewing problem proposals and admin-ing (coordinating) contests. Now we have a special person, whose job is to review proposals and try to improve them. That person is me right now, although I hope that this system will outlive me, as it is more fair and leads to better problems. Yes, better problems, as my job is not only reviewing the proposals, but also thinking on ways how to make them better. Most of the short contests in 2021 had at least one hard problem significantly improved during the review.
- Making problems better requires collaboration with setters, which starts from communication. We used emails before, and it was... not ideal. Now we have created a dedicated Discord server, where we create private channels for me to communicate with setters. On the same Discord server we create channels with all the setters for a particular contest, where they will be able to talk with admin, tester, and generally people working on the contest. Moreover, if there is an issue that requires some managing help (like providing access) it will be easy to ping managers. I will not put a link to the server here, and I ask setters who has it to not do it too: we want only people who are interested in problemsetting there.
- Many people hate Campus (the system which was used for preparing problems on CodeChef), and rightfully so. We don't like it either. That's why we have gotten rid of the entire UI and have built a new problemsetting portal from scratch. We have implemented many essential features which were previously lacking (bulk uploading of test files, bulk editing of time limits, and judges, statement history versions, copyable sample IO, etc), and are working on adding the missing features as well. We know we still aren't as good as Polygon, but we are working towards it. We ask setters to prepare the problem on Polygon, and then port them to CodeChef.
- This is an internal thing, but I'm very proud of it. In general, we have a big waiting list of problems that are approved but not yet used for contests. When we need to make the next contest, an Admin is assigned, and he then chooses the problem from the waiting list. This waiting list was stored in a Google Sheet, it was hard to maintain and even harder to choose problems from it, and mostly we had to rely on our memory to choose problemsets. Now the waiting list will be stored in Notion. We will have to migrate the waiting list manually, and this work is far from done, but the future of stuck-in-the-waiting-list problems looks a bit brighter now, as we will be able to actually consider them while choosing problemsets.
- The CodeChef problem setting portal is still not a very user friendly system. And to use it you have to somehow learn how to do it. There is a guide for it... accessible only by a link you have to somehow get. Also this guide is written several years ago. Yeah. Actually, there are more different guides, sometimes contradicting each other. But it's not much of a problem, you have close to 0 chance to find them. Well, this had to stop. Either by CodeChef dying out because the link to the guide was lost and now nobody knows how to upload problems, or by us making an effort. We have chosen the second way, and it's Notion to the rescue again. Introducing CodeChef Public Guides. It's very new, but at least there are links to all the old guides I could find. We are planning to write more articles on all things related to CodeChef problemsetting, and maintain them in relevant state. Right now there are articles on step-by-step process of setting a problem and what (not) to do when proposing a problem. I'm planning to write an article on good practices when working with Polygon next.
- We have increased our judge server capacity and have not had a queue issue in a long while. We are in the process of scaling it 4x (and more) in the coming months, which will allow our setters to not have to worry about keeping the testfiles to a minimum.
In case I have managed to convince you to become a problem setter on CodeChef, here is the link.
What changes would you like to see on CodeChef, either in problemsetting or in general? Please help us make CodeChef better by filling this form.