Community Perspective: Advancing Precision Medicine Through Crowdsourcing

The “Gig” Economy works far differently than it used to work. In years past, if you wanted to hire a person to write code, decipher an algorithm, or perform other complex tasks, you might go to a temp agency or conduct dozens of interviews to find the person who appeared to have the required skillset. This process involved interviews and reviews and, finally, taking a leap of faith. With luck, your candidate would get the job done.

Today, that’s all changed. Instead of hiring a single person who MIGHT get the outcome you desire, you take advantage of platforms like Topcoder and leverage the growing popularity of crowdsourcing. In a nutshell, you put out a challenge and let the talent come to you. How exactly does that happen? Your challenge attracts more than 1,000 people with world-class talent from every corner of the globe. The net result: Exceeding your expectations. Fortunately, this type of partnership is possible.

That is exactly what happened when a partnership between Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH) and the Broad Institute, along with funding from the Kraft Foundation, decided to post a challenge at Topcoder. The challenge was to align multiple DNA sequences to obtain a reference DNA sample. Many of these samples only displayed minor differences between the reference sample and the sequences. The challenge was great — align the samples fast and correctly while ensuring the proper testing to show redundancies.

Gig Workers Exceeding Expectations

While it may be no surprise to those of us who are accustomed to dealing with the amazing talent pool at Topcoder, what may have surprised Harvard was the outpouring of people stepping up to meet the challenge.

Over the course of three weeks, there were more than 410 unique solutions generated. The work performed by 72 members of the community was outstanding. On average, each competitor submitted 5.7 unique algorithms. At the end of the competition, Mark.Cygan, a participant from Poland, rose to the top of the leaderboard. Ultimately, Mark’s unique approach to problem-solving, his smarts and his commitment to solving this problem won the day.

You can learn more about how Mark came to be involved, his methods, his approach and why he found this so exciting by viewing the interview he gave to Topcoder recently:

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Simple Access to Talent Through Crowdsourcing

Companies of all sizes from startup entities with a handful of employees to Fortune 500 companies with thousands of employees have explored this innovative approach to problems big and small. Rather than hiring a single person and hoping for the ideal outcome, a company gets immediate access to a field of competitors who are all striving for the best possible outcome to all types of problems.

Gaining access to a pool of talent is also easier on crowdsourcing sites. Imagine the number of hours you would have to spend searching for someone who has specific experience dealing with the problem you are trying to solve. Once you have identified them, you will have to undergo an interview process, negotiate fees, and then wait until they are ready to begin your project. Once they get to work, you are placing all of your hopes and expectations on one person.

Creating a single point of failure is a strategy that today, thanks to crowdsourcing, you can simply avoid. Imagine progress without interviews, endless resumes, or headaches over hiring the ‘right person’. Even better, you pay for outcomes. You’re not paying for hours! When you place your trust in the Topcoder community, you have a far better chance of successfully meeting your goals. Why? Because our community is brimming with committed talent dedicated to finding the best solution.