Java or C++/Python for USACO???

Many people have been inquiring about whether to use Java or C++ for the USACO, and many heard from other sources that Java is allegedly at disadvantage for USACO. Is that true?

Let’s bust some myths!

Myth#1: Most contestants use C++ for USACO, not Java

USACO publishes statistics of all main programming languages’ usage for each contest. Java and C++ have been consistently the top two most-used languages, with Java only slightly less but very close to modern C++ (version 11). These are some latest numbers, see for yourself.

2020 Open:

 3920 C++11
 3052 Java

2020 February:

4594 C++11 
4070 Java

2020 January:

4552 C++11 
4428 Java

Myth#2: Java is slow so it is not a good language choice for USACO


  • First — Over recent years, there have been huge performance improvement made from the earlier Java version , and many benchmarks show that modern Java’s performance is on par with C++.
  • Secondly — In USACO, the time limit allowed for Java solution to run is DOUBLE the time allowed for C/C++. But C/C++ is definitely not 2x faster than Java. So are you at disadvantage (or advantage?) writing your solution in Java for USACO?

Why do we use Java as the main language in USACO classes?

  1. Java is one of the most commonly used programming language in both academics and industry.
  2. Java is portable (while C/C++ is not), versatile, backed by robust and vast amount of library and supports , and easier to learn for beginners than C++/C.
  3. Java is the required language for AP Computer Science A. One stone kills two birds!

Well How About C++ Then?

Objectively, there are pros and cons to use C++ (or C) for USACO ( as opposed to using Java), such as:

  • Cons: you need to worry about memory management (which is a pain)
  • Pros: C/C++ code can be written tersely sometimes which some programmers may like. But here is my advice on this:

USACO is a problem solving competition, NOT a shortest code competition! I don’t encourage students to flex their muscles by writing short codes. Writing terse code can sometime hurt you! Writing clearer and highly readable codes is much more important as you progress into harder problems and have to navigate around your codes for debugging and troubleshooting.

Bottom Line

Java does NOT carry performance disadvantage when it comes to USACO competition. After all , students should choose the language that they are most comfortable with — that is the most important thing that will give you the personal EDGE!

Can I join your class as a C++/Python Programmer?

Yes! Because all our USACO courses focus on :

  • algorithms
  • data structures, and
  • problem solving
  • NOT teaching students basic programming

Our curriculum overall is language-neutral, except that our solutions are written in Java, and when we teach new data structures, we demonstrate their usage in Java.

Although most of our students use Java as their main language, we have had students that choose to use C++ or Python. As long as the students are competent programmers in their own language of choice, and be able to understand our Java solutions, then they will be all set to go.