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Better than You: King of code

Poland's Tomek Czajka has programmed his way to glory, and $75,000 in winnings. So we had to ask: Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings?

Known in his competitive coding circles by first name only, Tomek Czajka is one of the world's best programmers. He's earned over $75,000 in algorithm-writing challenges over the last few years on TopCoder, the Top Gun of programming competition sites. In addition to fortune and fame in the developer community, TopCoder winners are often recruited by event sponsors like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google. Tomek is ranked #2 on the site he'd be #1 if he hadn't taken a break during the last few months, which caused a slight dip in his ranking. A recent graduate of Warsaw University, Tomek is on his way to Purdue University to begin a Ph.D. program in computer science.

Who: Tomek Czajka
What: TopCoder, soon-to-be graduate student in computer science
Where: Purdue University
Age: 23

Who do you live with?
A university friend Piotrek now, my girlfriend Ela for the first two months at Purdue.

How much TopCoder money have you won?

Where does all that money go?
To a bank in New York; I will start spending when I move to Purdue.

How many TopCoder challenges have you won?
Two major challenges (TopCoder Open 2003, TopCoder Collegiate Challenge 2004) and eight weekly single-round matches

What would you be doing if you weren't a programmer?

What kind of research will you be doing?
Paper and pencil computer science - algorithmics, computability theory, logic, etc.

Song you would/always pick to sing at karaoke:
Whiskey by Dzem

The innovation you wish you'd come up with:
Automatic Theorem Prover 2008

Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?
Lord of the Rings

Biggest career or academic setback:
Setback? Can't remember.

Favorite algorithm:
Integer sorting in expected O(n log log n) time by Andersson, Hagerup, Nilsson, and Raman in 1995. There are faster ones known today, but that one is lovely.

What is the Next Big Thing?
A programming language that is 10 times easier on the details side

Favorite geek word:
I will be taking an Intensive English Training next week.

Favorite pastime during boring classes:
Games of paper soccer

Food items in top desk drawer:
Mars bars

Little thing you do every day that is the secret of your success:
Sleep a lot

Better than You is Red Herring's series of Q&As with young VCs, entrepreneurs, geeks, and other industry upstarts. Email comments and suggestions to