Russia's Yandex Tries to Keep Region's Top Coders From Heading West to Google, Facebook

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Employees at Yandex NV headquarters in Moscow. Close

Employees at Yandex NV headquarters in Moscow.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Employees at Yandex NV headquarters in Moscow.

Google's Sergey Brin, PayPal's Max Levchin, WhatsApp's Jan Koum -- Silicon Valley abounds with star programmers with Eastern bloc origins.

As the U.S. tech giants line up to grab the next generation of code wizards from the region, Russia's Yandex doesn't want to see them leave. Its plan is to retain a good haul of these experts by heading a bit west itself.

This month, the owner of Russia's largest Internet search engine invited 25 young programmers to the final of its Yandex.Algorithm challenge, which was held for the first time outside the country at the company's new Berlin headquarters. Attracting regional talent is no small task. Companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft are trying to do the same thing, and you can understand why: Russia holds the top spot in a global ranking of competitive coders, according to Poland is No. 3 and Ukraine is No. 5.

As for the U.S.? Sixth place.

Yandex is also under pressure to present itself as an international, open-minded employer that is independent from Vladimir Putin's Russian government.

The contestants had to solve six tasks in 100 minutes, including one that helps users of Yandex's music app get recommendations for songs. Gennady Korotkevich, a Belarusian student at St. Petersburg's State University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics, took the main prize of 6,000 euros ($8,050).

Ultimately, Yandex hopes that winning a greater share of these highly-skilled graduates will lead to the day when it can beat rival Google products in countries across the world. That could help it gain independence from the Russian market as well.

--Ilya Khrennikov in Moscow contributed to this report

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