He is Petr Mitrichev, a 27-year-old Russian who works on Google's search engine and earned his champion's title in competitive programming, a sport where hackers write computer code in pursuit of cash prizes, travel opportunities, and a deep fulfillment unattainable anywhere else.
"You have a feeling of satisfaction in a contest when you solve a problem," says Mitrichev, affable and a little pale in a Google T-shirt during an interview on the lawn of the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Since 2005, Mitrichev, a graduate of Moscow State University, has led the globe in algorithmic programming. That's the Grand Prix of competitive coding categories, in which riddles involving infinite game boards or the decibel level of n + 1 mooing cows require instant mathematical insights and quick fingers on the keyboard. Mitrichev is known for his "short pause"—that is, he starts to answer questions nearly as soon as he sees them.