Back in late 2017, a handful of Kiandra developers decided to try codewars.com - a website that challenges you to complete coding exercises in a variety of languages. We dug into it and had some fun, but as time went on, I ended up putting it to the side as something that I’d often think about, but never make the time for.
Enter Codewars - a community that is built around developing programming skills. Users are tasked with completing ‘kata’, inspired by Japanese martial arts practice. A ‘kata’ in Codewars is a bite-sized challenge intended to implement a specific piece of functionality. Typically you get an input and the start of a function and you’re tasked with processing it and return the expected output. The size and nature of these challenges mean that users can focus on solving a specific problem – perfect for warming up the mind or to challenge oneself. Each kata is graded from 8th to 1st kyu and most can be attempted in a variety of languages. Not every language can be used on every kata and the rarer the language the fewer challenges.
Once you’ve written up your solution to the problem, you can then run the kata’s built-in tests. If your solution passes those tests, then you can submit your solution. You’ll earn points for your efforts and then you can triumphantly take a look at how other users have approached the solution. You’ll also see different categories, like ‘Best Practice’ (good clean code) and ‘Clever’ (usually solutions that condense everything down as compactly as possible) which users can nominate. Here, you can learn from others and see how they did it. Just resist the urge to peek at solutions before you’ve finished as you won’t earn any points! If something is a bit too tricky, you can always bookmark it and come back later.
Of course, as a community-focused website, these code kata don’t come from thin air. Users can build their own challenges and submit them, allow contributors to help with ironing out any issues and after it passes beta testing, others can train on it. One of the best ways to validate your own understanding of something is to teach it, so there’s something to be said about challenging others to solve problems you’ve developed yourself.
So what keeps people coming back? The challenge? The sense of community? The fun of solving problems? I imagine most developers will have their own reasons, but I’d say it's the gamification. You are awarded points as you complete each kata or when you participate in the community which helps to make your progress feel more tangible. The training helps me feel like I’m keeping myself sharp and I can pace myself based on how much of a challenge I’m seeking, so I’m never too overwhelmed or underwhelmed and keeps my interest at the right level. Your ranking is also broken up by programming language, so you can pick and choose which language to train as you go. Signing up to the site requires passing a basic challenge too, which is an interesting gamified take on on-boarding new users! Enter if you dare…
After revisiting Codewars over the last few months I’ve built up my score and ranked up a few times, too. With new challenges awaiting me, I hope to push my skills further so I’m ready for whatever task comes my way.