Liza Avramenko on CheckIO and Empire of Code - Episode 18

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Summary

In this episode we talked to Liza Avramenko, the CEO of CheckIO, about Empire of Code and CheckIO. We discussed what differentiates them from each other and from the other coding games that have been spreading on the internet. One of the main differentiators for CheckIO in particular is the strong focus on community. The bottom line is that if you use Python then you should check out CheckIO and Empire of Code as a great way to practice your skills.

Brief Intro

  • Hello and welcome to Podcast.__init__, the podcast about Python and the people who make it great.
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  • We are recording today on July 27th, 2015 and your hosts as usual are Tobias Macey and Chris Patti
  • Today we are interviewing Liza Avramenko about CheckIO

Interview

  • Please introduce yourself
  • How did you get introduced to Python?
    • Learned about it from Co-Founder Alex
  • For anyone not familiar with CheckIO, can you explain what it is?
  • What was the inspiration for creating the CheckIO platform?
    • Alex was bored working in a bank and wanted to create a place for sharing practice problems
  • What is your goal with this platform?
    • Become global community for most popular coding languages
    • Remain open and supportive
  • How do you deal with the question of ownership and licensing in CheckIO? Was this a tricky hurdle to get past in the site’s creation?
    • Being willing to share solutions publicly is a core part of the site.
      • This had to be more explicitly stated due to some users confusion early on.
  • Growing a community is difficult because of the chicken and egg problem. How did you kickstart the growth of the CheckIO community?
    • Community always number one priority
    • Started organically
    • Initially had 24/7 live chat to help new users
    • Openness was attractive, led to critical mass
    • As community grew, need for live chat decreased
    • Nature of Python community lends itself well to a collaborative, open community
    • Guido provided advice on how to grow and foster community
  • Guido himself has participated in a number of conversations on your platform to critique submissions. Have you received any feedback from him directly about his impressions of the system?
  • How does diversity play into CheckIO? Are there aspects of the site’s design that are purposefully meant to attract a diverse audience?
    • CheckIO has always targeted people with basic coding experience
    • Early live chat feedback focused around very new coders wishing there was more material for them
    • These early challenges resulted in the development of Empire of Code
  • There are a number of other online programming-oriented games available. What makes CheckIO and Empire of Code stand out from them?
    • Priority of community
    • Others are more about gaming, showcasing talent
  • How did you design the gamification aspects of CheckIO, and how important do you think they are to the site’s success?
    • CheckIO was never a game, more of a library of challenges that have game elements
    • Empire of Code is all about gamification, code and algo improvement are baked into the gameplay
      • You choose Python or Javascript “legions” at character creation time, this is a one time choice.
      • Buildings, troop movements, materials, etc. are all based in code
      • Players can steal code and algorithms from other players
        • Incredible innovation
      • Great adoption story for new users – can start playing without writing any code
        • But in order to really excel you will WANT to start writing code
        • So many people have their original motivations for coding come from playing games
      • Cooperative play in the form of training missions with other players
        • This is an opportunity to learn how people on the other side are solving the same problem
      • New languages are planned – Ruby, maybe Java?
  • Do you think that there is something about the Python language or community that inspires adoption of this kind of gamified practice?
  • You recently released the beta of a new experience called Empire of Code which is more akin to the type of video game that many people are familiar with. What inspired that evolution?
    • As part of the new experience, you also added JavaScript as an available language. Do you intend to add new languages in the future?
    • Is there a particular demographic or set of demographics that you are targeting with Empire of Code vs CheckIO?
  • What’s the monetization strategy for Empire of Code or CheckIO?
    • For Empire, you can play for free but you might keep losing your resources until you can learn to code more effectively, OR you can buy a shield which will protect your resources for a time.
  • In CheckIO, how do you label the difficulty level of the individual puzzles, is there a set of guidelines for that or is it up to the puzzle writer / submitter?
    • CheckIO trusts its community
      • The community rates each challenge
  • Part of the CheckIO platform is the ability for users to submit their own problems. How much vetting is involved before these submissions are available to users of the site?
  • Where do you see CheckIO and Empire of Code going in the future?
    • Want to have Empire of Code known as the best online game that blends in programming by the end of 2016
    • In ~5 years want to see people saying the CheckIO/Empire of Code inspired people to program as a career
    • In ~10 years want to see all major languages represented
    • Aiming to become a major game publisher

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