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This year half of the top 10 best performing universities in the global ACM-International Collegiate Programming Competition were Russian.
|1||St. Petersburg State University||11||1560||290|
|2||Shanghai Jiao Tong University||11||1567||272|
|4||Moscow Institute of Physics & Technology||10||1437||281|
|5||University of Warsaw||10||1586||278|
|6||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||9||1021||247|
|7||St. Petersburg ITMO University||9||1026||208|
|8||Ural Federal University||9||1167||212|
|9||University of Wroclaw||9||1193||252|
|10||Nizhny Novgorod State University||9||1222||292|
This isn’t a fluke; Russia does incredibly well in these programming competitions. Since 2000, Russia has won 11 out of 17 years, including the past five years consecutively. The only other winners during this period have been China (four times) and Poland (twice). Ex-commie bloc stronk.
It’s probably not a matter of superior intelligence. Most estimates put Russia’s average IQ at around 97 and I don’t disagree with that.
So presumably it’s significantly a function of (1) motivation and/or (2) superior education.
Regarding motivation, that’s probably significantly higher in the ex-commie bloc. A computer science major from MIT or UC Berkeley is almost guaranteed a high five digit salary upon graduation. A Russian (or a Pole, etc) is not; not only are salaries lower across the economy, but if anything their domestic markets for STEM majors are oversaturated. So they have a lot of incentives to try to stand out and increase their chances of getting a job offer from an American or West European firm. Consequently, they likely take such competitions more seriously.
Regarding education, it is quite possible Russia and Eastern Europe have an advantage in this sphere as well, despite the poor showings of their universities in most international rankings. Russians do relatively poorly on the PISA tests, which feature problems commonly found in everyday life and have heavier g loadings, but in contrast they do very well on the TIMSS tests, which are far more “academic” in format and less heavily g loaded. These is in fact a lot of anecdotal evidence that Russian mathematical pedagogy is better than American. For winning math and programming competitions (if not building successful companies, which require a wider and more general range of talents) this sort of skew in cognitive abilities is probably optimal.