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Guest Blog: My topcoder Journey – From Faridabad to TCO14 via @gauravs23

By wwwtc In Community Stories

Posted August 22nd, 2014

Back in June we launched our Refer Your Way to TCO program. A spin on our ongoing Referral Program, and we were very excited of what was to come. Little did we know that it would be so wildly successful. One member specifically, gauravs23 really took a liking to this program and completely shattered our expectations, referring an additional 100 members than the program looked to achieve. Well, Gaurav won the contest and will be a VIP guest of ours at #TCO14. We can’t wait to meet him as he has long been a great competitor in the community. And will continue to be for many years to come. Gaurav was kind enough to share his success story on the Referral Program with us, in a much more detailed overview of his entire topcoder career. An excellent read, and a fantastic story of one of the communities true rockstars. Enjoy!

My topcoder Journey – From Faridabad to TCO14

How and why I joined topcoder:

It all started back in May 2012 when I was working in top MNC IT Services company and one of my managers told me that “maybe I wasn’t cut out for this”. He insisted that I should join some product company and do some challenging work as he considered me able for that. Not knowing much about what direction to go, he suggested that I should start thinking and reading some tech blogs to get going. In just a few days, I came to know about topcoder from TechCrunch.

I explored through the site, and was interested from the first time I visited… so I signed up! I must admit one thing here, honestly, I didn’t think anyone can ever win money from a site like this. I know it sounds dumb, and it seems funny to me now 🙂 Due to that, I was hesitant in participating; but there was a contest going on at the time called “Quick Quizzes”. The task was to submit short java objective type questions, and the questions that got approved would be paid $100. I submitted few of my questions and forgot about them. Suddenly, I got an email from support a few days later that my 11 questions have been approved and I became eligible for my prize.

That was my first win, and I can’t tell you how happy I was! I now sensed that I have a world full of opportunities where I can earn money for learning stuff, it was amazing. I never thought that was possible. It completely changed my life from there. So one can say it was destiny that made me meet topcoder.

How it made me become a better developer:

Topcoder gave me the chance to earn and learn at the same time. I have an Electronics degree from college, and had interest in the background of computer science. But not studying it for 4 years, gave me little lag compared to my peers. Then topcoder gave me the much needed motivation and spark to learn new things and get rewarded at the same time. I started participating in the html, javascript, jquery and Java challenges and continued to participate in the Quick Quizzes while they ran.

It was really fun to beat others in a Quick Quiz 🙂 Where people would answer toughest of 10 questions in quickest possible time to win money. I also credit my learning of jquery to participating in various challenges. I was participating and learning but still I was into smaller competitions at the time, ranking outside the top 100. I used the rankings to motivate myself and participate more.

My first “big win”:

It came in April 2013 via a Google App Engine Java challenge.It was Google contacts challenge, and I was not only unaware of cloud computing, but also what GAE was and what APIs google had. I knew java though, so I wanted to give it a try. I worked hard on it, prepared the application as per the requirements, submitted the code, and waited. Although I was the only one who had submitted for the challenge as it was a big one and needed time to implement, and grade. Those days, topcoder didn’t announce the timeline by when the results would be final. I was so excited about my first big project that I used to refresh my email and challenge page numerous times a day, just to check if results came out. Finally they were announced, and I won! It gave me confidence that I can win big and rise the ranks here. So it made me a confident developer and made me learn GAE, and new APIs I didn’t know. I knew that just learning those new skills would be even bigger in time than the prize itself.

How it changed my life:

Topcoder touched every aspect of my life – intellectually, emotionally, and of course, financially. The money that I won allowed me spend on things which I not be able to spend it on with just my regular salary. The money I won from topcoder was used in my holidays, sending gifts to my family, getting a new phone, etc. Everything from just visiting new places to roaming around with no destination in mind. Topcoder gave me the freedom to live my life apart from taking care of my responsibilities at home. And the biggest thing, it is that money is now being utilized to help pay for building my new home 🙂

Most Loved Challenge:

There is one challenge that I will always remember – gAudit Application Hardening. Apart from winning a good amount from this challenge and learning a lot of new concepts in java, another pleasing and motivating factor was that I was competing against wcheung- the biggest rockstar on topcoder when it comes to Java challenges. I have always followed his challenges and he is always the best. In this challenge, I had finally defeated wcheung, by a very small margin. But a win is a win, and I had won it. I was so so happy I told everyone in my family. This one was about more than the money, it was that feeling of pride, that I could produce the quality needed to even compete with the almighty wcheung. Although that was the most satisfying win for me, I consider it the second biggest!

My Biggest Win (so far):

I was cruising along with my few big wins and was actively trying to win more and more and more. Then I read about the Super Awesome Cloud API Mashathon. There was already a lot of hype about this competition as it was an offsite version of the TCO13 Mashathon where contestants needed to come with an app on their own within less than 3 days of time. But there was a twist, the contestants could not know in advance, what APIs they would be working with to create their app. It was to be decided just before the competition started by spinning the “API wheel” (A virtual version of the onsite Big API Wheel).

It was Wheel of Fortune. The contestants would spin the wheel three times to get their three APIs and then needed to use any 2 of those to create an app. I was not thinking of participating in the Mashathon due to a hectic work schedule, but managed at the last minute to take part in the contest. I spun the wheel and got three of my APIs – Google, Facebook and Pick Any. I was very happy that I got Google – which I knew had a lot of options, and I knew may well from first win – and pick any. What more could have gone right? I got the feeling, this could be my year. I started working on the app, and decided to go with Yelp for my pick any option. I created an Event Management Application and submitted the solution. I had created a presentation for my submission which looked good to me. I have a pattern, if I like my submission myself, I win it, even 2nd or 3rd, but yes it happens, all the time. And I liked my Event Management App a lot, so I felt like my pattern would keep up! I was satisfied with my submission and just had to wait for the results.

The results were to be announced 4 days later, and I was so excited. When the results were finally announced, I saw that I had won it. I had won the first ever Super Awesome Mashathon and first prize of $5,000 USD!! The icing on the cake was that I had defeated the heavy weights like Talesforce, Romin, Wcheung in this challenge where everything was open ended. It was my biggest moment in my topcoder journey. I had achieved something I never thought possible before finding topcoder. And it all leads me to why I am here today; The TCO14 Referral Program.

Why I wanted to win this trip:

There were multiple reasons I wanted to win this trip. I want to meet the world’s top competitors who are out there creating awesome stuff, and get some inspiration from them and do something on my own. I want to meet the great Jeff Douglas and have my picture taken with him! I have also never been to US before, or any other country for that matter, so this trip provides me an amazing opportunity I otherwise may not have had. Also, and most importantly, I wanted to compete in onsite version of Mashathon – and be a repeat champion!

Referral Program:

Finally, here comes the most important section that has given me the opportunity to write this blog and that will eventually sponsor my first trip to US to attend the world’s biggest developer event, TCO13. The Referral Program.

Honestly speaking, this year has been a lean year for me at topcoder in terms of competing on a regular basis. Due to hectic schedule at work and too many personal responsibilities at home, I have not been able to give time to compete. Due to this, I had missed the chance again, to be onsite at TCO14. Or so I had thought.

But then came the Referral Program which launched June 2nd. I came to know about the program two days later, and had a very uphill task ahead of me. Getting 500 referrals for topcoder within a period 2 months. But at the same time, the prize was even bigger, an all-expense paid trip to TCO 2014, to be held in the beautiful city of San Francisco. It has always been my dream to go to the US but my luck never clicked and I wasn’t involved in any of the projects related to US. So this program, came like a golden ticket to not only be in US but also attend TCO, the world’s biggest developer event. This was another great opportunity given by topcoder to the community members.

I started getting few of my friends at work to register on the site using my unique referral link. It was a nice start, but not making a huge dent (I had managed 8 in first 3 days on my own). I told myself, that this is my chance to go and compete on site and meet awesome topcoder crew and members. I needed to up the volume!

I asked my brother to help me out. We made a plan to just go day by day. We had approximately 490 to achieve in around 50 days. So it was averaging 10 new referrals a day. My brother had the great idea to leverage his network of office coworkers. The sell was to let their relatives, friends or whoever they know interested in web development/design to sign up! Just had to convince them that they can win real money here, and in US dollars. (Trust me, earning in US dollars in India, is considered to be a big deal.) In addition to that, the most important part is that I was motivated. Considering that even if I fell short of 500, I would still be getting a lot of referrals in my profile and for 1 whole year topcoder would give me 10% of their earnings which could be lots of money that I will get without lifting a finger in a competition. So it was really a win – win participating in this program.

In addition to my brother’s help, I started to call up or ping all of my friends, even those I had not been in touch with for some time. I pinged everyone I saw on Facebook. I used my profile to show them that if I can do it, then they can do it as well. I used to explain them the whole story of how they can participate and win. How they can earn while they learn. Trust me, I am not a funny person, but it was difficult to explain that they can even get money for learning stuff. But once they listened to me carefully, they understood the concept behind topcoder.

Apart from the money, your topcoder profile helps a lot to build a resume. So I also made sure that I educate every person in web development/design that yes there are companies who even directly ask the person whether they compete on sites like topcoder and directly give them a great edge over others while considering for a job.

I also used my work network. Currently I am working in US based IT services company and previously was with another so I had a perfect network for topcoder I needed to tap into. I called my old friends there and got them registered. I called up my managers, previous teammates, and many people from that company with great success. But 500 was still a long ways away. I was maintaining my goal of 10 per day average and was slowly moving towards my target. Everyday in the night I used to think, its not going to be possible as we are running out of resources. But then I used to dream of the days that I can spend in TCO14 in the US. The great people I can meet and awesome conference that I can attend if I pull this off. All this motivation really got me going. Then I started a campaign in IT services company using email telling about topcoder. Letting them know of world’s best community and the amount of money that people can earn for learning new skills, and competing for fun.

The campaign was a success and people were actually using my link. That campaign also made me think to I call up my college and send them the link to register as well. There are many students in my college interested in development so it was a great fit! Many registered using my link and my referrals started going up. I was able to keep my 10 a day and then some!

I used to think of this program as 20-20 cricket match where you need to start from challenging task of convincing people to register themselves on their site. I sent so many emails to so many of my previous colleagues with the instructions on how to register. I was doing everything I could think of! Those helped as I mentioned that you can be a part of World’s largest developer community and get a chance to win in dollars. Finally I got to the magic number of 500 earlier than I thought. I even ended the program well over 500!

This program not only gave me the opportunity to participate in TCO14 but also a chance to earn money (10%) for next 1 year for other people’s success… so all in all, I benefit everywhere! I loved this program and from the start I had the belief I would win it, because I always knew this is my biggest break that I can get in near future.

Also I would like to give huge credit to my brother who was the initiator and motivator for me right from the start. Also my Mom and Dads blessings without which this wasn’t possible. And last but not the least, the support of my girlfriend who was with me all the time even when sometimes I could not give time to her while doing challenges and referring people to topcoder 🙂

Honestly I know I still have a long way to go on topcoder. Get back in full swing and I believe that TCO14 could be the break, and motivation that I have been waiting for. Topcoder is the only company in the world which provides you not only the opportunity to participate in challenges, but also the motivation factor needed to do so. Whether that is money, education, friendships, rivalries, or hobbies. It’s simply amazing. Today I am preparing for my visit to TCO14 and very excited to go there. I just can’t wait for November!! And it’s all because topcoder cares about its members.

Lastly I would like to sign off with a message that always get yourself motivated and never lose hope as I did not. I would say – “When you have a target to achieve and you are committed to it, you can perform way better than you ever thought you could.”