Exciting and Thrilling – My TCO Experiences

In around two weeks, I’ll be at TCO again! I can’t express to you how thrilled I am. For me, TCO is a free trip to the US, a great time to meet all the handles you are familiar with in person, and an opportunity to win a big prize.

TCO 17 left me with unforgettable memories, and in the dawn of my second TCO, I can’t wait to share my TCO 18 experiences with you.

TCO 16 – At first glance

Shameful to say, I only noticed the existence of TCO in August 2016 even though I came to Topcoder in 2009. At that time, all stages of the online competition had been completed, so I missed all the regular stages already. But there was still hope to win a trip, a bonus stage, from July 1 to August 31. That was the last chance to win a trip to TCO 16.

However, half the time of the bonus stage had passed. I won 1 challenge in July, which was TCO eligible. This gave me hope, I thought I still had a chance to win the trip, so I told myself I should try to seize the chance.

I started to work hard to compete for every TCO eligible challenge that I could do. I completed 5 challenges and won 4 of them in August. Plus the challenge I won in July, I completed 6 challenges in total. Finally, I ranked second place on the leaderboard. I thought I won the trip because the members at the top two placements of period 1 – 4 won the trip.

However, I misread the rules. The rules of the bonus stage are a bit different from the regular period – only the top 1 member of the bonus stage can win the trip. Unfortunately, I still missed the TCO. birdofpreyru was the luckiest guy of that stage.

I was not discouraged even though I missed TCO 16. I started to keep TCO in my mind and prepared for the next TCO – TCO 17.

TCO 17 – The first journey

Similar to TCO 16, TCO 17 also contained 4 stages of online competitions. The top 3 members would win the trip to TCO. The first stage of TCO 17 started on September 1, 2016. I tried to continue working hard and win more challenges to be ranked in the top 3. However, for some reason, I couldn’t keep focusing on Topcoder challenges and missed the majority of challenges in stages 1 & 2.

So I planned to win the trip in stage 3, which lasted from March 1, 2017 to May 31, 2017. Finally, I reached my goal. I participated in 8 challenges in March and 9 challenges in April; I won prizes from almost all of them (except for two challenges) and won TCO points for all TCO-eligible challenges. Finally, I got 14,935 points in stage 3 and left a large gap to the second place even though I was busy with my regular job and did not have enough time to compete in May.

The win was very meaningful to me. It removed my regret about missing TCO16 and offered me the first trip to TCO. I was thrilled and excited, but nervous for the upcoming TCO. I was wondering how my first trip to TCO as well as the US would be. After several months waiting, the expectation became the reality. I came to Buffalo, New York, the place to hold TCO 17!

TCO was more amazing than I expected! The exciting venue, brilliant events, nerve wracking onsite challenges, and the beautiful Niagara Falls impressed me a lot. Most importantly, I met Topcoder admins and members – the faces with familiar handles – in person.

Here are some of my favorite moments of TCO 17 that I would like to share with you.

(1) Chicken wings contest: 5 local Buffalo restaurants brought their special and delicious chicken wings and let us decide who was the best.

 

(2) Niagara Falls: Yes, I took a boat and sailed beside the waterfall for taking in the best view.

 

(3) Champions with their trophies: The winners of TCO 17 in six tracks. We are all proud of them!

That was my first TCO – very good and unforgettable memories.

TCO 18 – Qualified again and looking forward to coming

Luckily, I was qualified to be a TCO finalist again this year. In fact, I didn’t prepare for it as well as last year because I experienced many new roles on Topcoder – the reviewer, copilot, MVP and Development Evangelist. I had less time to participate in challenges but had more time to contribute to the community in different ways. However, I still won at stage 3, same as the last year. That was really out of my expectation.

 

The same as last year, I became a bit excited and thrilled. I’m really looking forward to the new experience of TCO 18 – the first TCO at the ranch! Maybe I have an opportunity to ride on the TCO ranch like a cowboy. Let’s stay tuned and see!

 

Tips to new faces of TCO

Lastly, if you are a new face to TCO, I’d like to share some tips from my own experiences.

1. Prepare your US visa application as early as possible.

Each year, the biggest challenge for me is the US visa application. The US visa application might become more difficult especially if you have a Ph.D. degree or studied in some sensitive majors. I need to take 1.5 – 2 months to finish the application. It’s always good to prepare for it as early as possible, unless you don’t need the visa.

The following documents are helpful and should be brought to the consulate for the interview.

  • The invitation letter from Topcoder, you can get more details here.
  • Resume/CV
  • US Itinerary
  • PhD/Master Research (If you have these degrees)
  • Certification of Graduation
  • Official approval for your annual leave from your corporation (If you have a regular job)

2. The feeling of the onsite competition is quite different from regular online challenges.

We usually have several days for an online code challenge of Topcoder, but at TCO, we only have around 4 hours for the onsite competition. The feeling is quite different – we have to finish the development in such a short time. So try to manage the time well.

TCO is so amazing, isn’t it? Want to attend TCO? Keep working hard on TCO-eligible challenges and you will be eligible and win the trip. I’m looking forward to seeing you at TCO.