China’s first variety show about computer programmers seeks to mold Chinese IT idols
Published: Jan 20, 2021 01:18 PM

Photo: screenshot of the show posted by the Ant Group on Sina Weibo

 Following in the footsteps of singers, dancers and other comedians, now computer programmers have gotten their own competitive reality show in China. Sponsored by the Ant Group, Ranshaoba tiancaichengxuyuan, which roughly translates to Burn Bright! Genius Programmer, seeks to display a different side of Chinese IT talents, who are often at the center of public discussion because of their heavy workloads.

The first reality competition to focus on programmers in China, the two-episode series debuted on Chinese streaming platforms on January 12.

Twenty programmers took part in the show, which divided them into four teams that competed to win a prize of 1 million yuan ($154,152). Some of the competitors were graduates of top universities such as Tsinghua University in China and Carnegie Mellon University in the US, while others were high school dropouts. 

The 20 contestants tasked with protecting wild animals from poachers in a virtual world. Contestants needed to design a set of artificial intelligence (AI) models that could detect and identify wild animals based on the limited data resources in the game.

Each team only had 48 hours to finish the "game" and the one that earned the highest score by stopping the most poachers won the prize.

Four top experts on information technology, who are also professors at Peking University and Tsinghua University, were acted as mentors to these young talents on the show.

The experience of some contestants stunned viewers. For instance, Tong Yongao, who also has a PhD in biology, had previously won the Capture the Flag event, an international information security technology challenge, with his team and currently is developing anti-cyber crime products, Chinese news site The Paper reported.

Another contestant He Liren learned programming by himself at a small internet bar in Hefei, East China's Anhui Province, after dropping out of high school 10 years ago. Competing with 19 other talented individuals from top universities, he impressed audiences with his creative ideas and professional skills.

Some netizens drawn in by the show commented on social media that even though they couldn't completely understand what the programmers in the show were doing, the competitors ignited their passion for the IT field.

"They are very different from the image of programmers I had in my imagination. Social media says programmers always wear plaid shirts and are losing their hair because of their too heavy workload. But in the show, these programmers are brilliant, talented and deeply love their job," one netizen wrote on Sina Weibo.

In many netizens' eyes, the show has torn apart the labels given many Chinese programmers.

However, some audiences said they lost interest in the show after watching for a while since the content was too IT orientated. 

Fang, a worker in the IT field in Beijing who just started his own company in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Tuesday that he is interested in the show and will watch it when he has the chance.

"I want to see my job from another angle and figure out what other people think about it," he said, praising the concept of the show.

A series of incidents, including the sudden death of a 23-year-old employee at China's e-commerce giant Pinduoduo, have created controversy for Chinese internet companies and raised questions for the industry, leading to netizens calling for companies to find a balance between turning a profit and taking care of employees.