5 Big Themes at the 2011 TopCoder Open – Part I
Part I of a special 2-part series canvassing the biggest themes of our global computing event, the TopCoder Open.
Looking back on the 4 days that were the 2011 TopCoder Open, I can begin by saying: Wow, what an amazing sprint. Personally, this was my first TopCoder Open and though this best of list below certainly could have been longer, I wanted to keep it concise and focus on what was truly great.
For anyone who still doesn’t know, think about the TopCoder Open as Top Gun for elite programmers, algorithmists and designers. Sure there may be a few less people wearing Ray-Bans, but there are just as many amazing dog-fights, only this time, in the digital world.
5 Big Things at TCO ’11
- Competition – TopCoder is an unabashed meritocracy and competition is the focus of our Community. We celebrate the individual and are always in awe of their competitive spirit. The arena that is created for this event, the sports like atmosphere, the grandiose allure of it all only add to the fact that when you strip it all away, it is what TopCoder always is, competition. There were rather large cash prizes awarded, totaling $150,000 and of course our elite members who flew-in from around the world were vying to take home their slice of the prize-pie, but equally, if not more important was the opportunity to be crowned a TopCoder Champion. After fierce competition, 6 Champions were crowned. Deserved Congratulations go out to:
Makoto Soejima [rng_58] - Algorithim Champion
Yang Li [Yeung] - Mod Dash Champion
Franklin Guevarra [j3_guile] – Development Champion
Wujian Ye [BLE] – Design Champion
Przemyslaw Debiak [Psyho] – Marathon Champion
Junius Albertho [abedavera] – Studio Champion
2. Collaboration, Culture & Community – This could fill up a War & Peace sized novel, so here goes the short, short version. What I noticed was this. As we hosted a welcome reception on the first evening many competitors formed small cliques, often with fellow countrymen. This made sense to me as I think the innate human response is to speak with those who share a language, simply because it is the more comfortable thing to do. Then something funny happened, they turned on the X-Box 360 with Kinect and within minutes, barriers dropped as the common language of gaming allowed people to just be themselves and play a game together. It was a powerful lesson and a foreshadowing of what was to come once the proverbial whistle was blown and competition was under way.
In the coming days, when any particular competition or round wrapped up the competitors congratulated another, huddled up and discussed, almost instantly, how they approached the problem and why they chose the path they did to solve the given challenge. The live setting may have been different for our Community members, but this exact action, sharing knowledge in an open and transparent manner almost identically replicates how members act when they compete virtually through the digital TopCoder Arena. It didn’t matter one bit where the individual hailed from. The language of community & collaboration shattered the innate cultural differences in this global gathering. And if you took the time to really study these spontaneous post-competition focus groups, you saw two things, very serious & professional conversations and a whole lot of smiling. This is what the Community loves to do. Compete, share knowledge, improve and have fun while doing it all. So perhaps it is like Top Gun, but in this world, everyone is each other’s wingman. Goose would be proud.
3. Inspiration – If you have the honor, and I use that terminology with exactness, to watch and listen to an individual such as Dean Kamen deliver a talk on innovation and what it takes to accomplish the incredible, then you are simply in luck. For those who may not know Dean Kamen, he is the world’s most celebrated innovator with such impact-full inventions as the Insulin Pump for diabetics, the Portable Dialisis machine that revolutionized patient care for kidney disease, he is the founder of FIRST student robotics competition - which we will talk more about in part II of this series - and the Star-Wars inspired “Luke” prosthetic arm featured in the video just below.
During Dean’s talk at the TopCoder Open, he stated that in the Civil War if a soldier lost their arm, it was replaced with a wooden stump with a hook at the end. Pressing the fast forward button by almost 150 years, modern soldiers who suffered the same fate didn’t fare much better, receiving a plastic prosthetic with a hook at the end. His engineering and innovation firm DEKA set out to revolutionize prosthetics. To get a sense of just how incredible this is, I encourage you to watch the video below that showcases what his team created.
Dean’s passion for going after huge challenges, like power, clean water and a plethora of other big issues was simply inspirational. Incremental improvements aren’t good enough in Dean’s world, not if you intend, as he has, to change the world and improve the lives of millions and millions of people. The only question my team had was: When does the guy sleep!? But in all seriousness, the more important question you ask yourself after watching Dean Kamen is, how can I be better? And that is what inspiration is all about.
Two big themes remain, so check out part II of the series later this week as we discuss the Future of Education and Opportunity only an on-site gathering can produce.
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Image Credit: selfishgiving.com
Video Credit: youtube.com/spectrummag