A new gaming site aimed at helping build teens' programming and STEM skills has its official launch today. NoNameSite.com is a project run by the coding contest community TopCoder with the support of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA sees NoNameSite.com as part of its larger mission to encourage students to pursue STEM and CS careers, to expand the talent pool of those working in those fields, and to help maintain the U.S.'s "technological superiority" (and by extension, its "military advantage.")
For its part, TopCoder is a ten year old company that holds a variety of contests for software design and development. As such, it too addresses the "talent pool" question, as it's a place where programmers can go to showcase their talent and employers can go, in turn, to find programmers and/or to outsource their coding projects.
NoNameSite.com looks to use that TopCoder model to encourage teens (grades 6 through 12) to compete in various challenges. You can opt to simply play the games on the site -- games like Alice in BooleanLand or Brando the Egg Hunter, for example -- or you can enter the gaming challenges. In Brando the Egg Hunter, you must manipulate said egg hunter up the face of a cliff, giving him directions on how many units to move forward and degrees to rotate. For those that opt to enter their scores, the fastest four times win $50 apiece.
Currently NoNameSite.com is currently funded as a DARPA project, but the platform is expected to be spun out as a commercial endeavor by the end of 2012. It says that it will do so via corporate sponsorships, much akin to how TopCoder now operates.
The site is certainly part of the new trend where "gamification" is being used to encourage people to explore STEM and programming education. (See Codecademy, for example.) Or maybe it isn't a new trend at all. Why, it's been almost 30 years since The Last Starfighter -- we've been recruiting kids via video games for a long time, I guess.