When Submitting is the Real Challenge – Topcoder Nation Ep.06

To continue the Topcoder Nation stories, let me share my brilliant experience with you. Luis has already revealed some of it at the end of the previous Topcoder Nation episode, but I think that it is worthwhile to share the whole story, because it was amazing.

Let me begin with explaining the circumstances. I was copiloting one of the heats of Jessie’s Design Month Dash which was about to be announced. In addition, we had just started to work on a TaaS project and I was honored to get a task which had a deadline of 4:30 a.m. local time. Sounds great doesn’t it? Except for the fact that the 3 idiots were already deep in the Himalayas in a village called Sangla.
Whenever I travel abroad for more than a couple of days, I buy a local SIM card so I can arrange my stuff on the go. Since my old Indian SIM had expired long ago, I had to buy a new one. This was already a problematic task, as the vendor said that my card would be activated in 2 hours. This 2 hours easily became 3 days even though starck181995, who was so kind to help me, “kept on irritating the person” who sold me that card. So finally I had a nice 4G mobile connection.

In the background I am buying the SIM card, while poor Ravi has no idea that I am soo going to abuse his hotspot soon.

It worked like a charm until we started our crazy trip towards the amazing, enormous, unbelievably beautiful Himalayas. When we booked the 10 day long trip we made sure with the manager of the agency that one way or another, on the critical days we would definitely have internet connection. My carrier’s service started to be weaker and weaker. No problem, we still had Ravi and we shamelessly used his phone as a hotspot wherever we went. 

During the days we mostly drove from village to village and arrived to our accommodations late in the afternoon. After dinner I started to work on my TaaS task, but I was already quite worried about the submission at such an early hour. In addition, I stayed with a Belgian girl who we shared the car with, and she went to sleep around midnight. At home it is easy, I can go to another room with my little laptop and work as long as I want. Not in this case.

Decision 1 

This is where I had to start to make decisions. The first was to sleep 2 hours and finish the task in the morning. So I woke up at 2:00, put a blanket over my head so I didn’t disturb my roommate, and continued the design. At the same time I lost the connection to Ravi’s phone, so my stress levels were gradually increasing. 

Decision 2 

I finished the task on time, but had no connection to submit. By this time I was panicking: how in the world would I submit my design??? This is not a challenge you can just leave behind if you feel like. It is a task, and you don’t give back a task. To remind you it was around 4:30 a.m.. I could have woken up the guys, but I didn’t want to disturb them. We really needed to sleep as the increasing altitude had its effect on our bodies. So I decided to solve it in a different way. 

I put my laptop into my backpack, got dressed and left the room. The hotel people were all sleeping and everything was locked down. On my phone, however, I had seen that another hotel had WiFi. I opened the doors, the gate, and left the hotel. The moon was still up and bright but the sun had already lit the snowy peaks around me. It was beautiful. 

I approached the other hotel which was locked from the inside. Their contacts were written on the sign, but my SIM had no coverage at all. So I continued my walk towards the market hoping for a house where people were already awake… without any luck. 

Decision 3-103

I was really determined to solve this problem, but I was quite scared at the same time. A Caucasian woman walking alone in a rural Indian village at the end of the world with a rather expensive device in her backpack without a chance to call for help if anything happens… I even turned back once. But the urge to submit my task won over my fears.

Decision 104

People started to turn up on the lonely streets of Sangla. So my next brave step was asking the men I met on the street if they had internet. I can imagine what they thought about me 🙂 To make it even worse in this part of India people do not necessarily speak English, not to mention my Hindi knowledge is like next to nothing. Everyone sent me to the market, but warned me that the shops will only open at 8:00 or 9:00. I didn’t care. By that time, I was unstoppable. 

Decision 105

After a 15-20 minute walk I reached the market, and just as people suggested, everything was closed. Almost everything. I noticed a little eatery that seemed to be open. I hesitated for a while as these kind of places rarely offer WiFi for their guests. Whatever… I had no other choice, so I climbed the stairs leading to the guest area and entered. A nice lady came out from the kitchen and asked what I wanted. To be honest, by looking at her I didn’t have the feeling that she would be able to help me – but in Asia you learn after a while that you should let your expectations go.

I explained to her the situation, that I needed to work etc. She answered me that unfortunately she only had a very slow internet connection on her phone. Very slow vs. nothing sounded like winning the Olympics in that moment. Thank god people in India tend to be much more open and giving than in Europe; she just handed her phone over to me so I could set the hotspot and start to work.

She also asked me if I wanted to drink a chai (tea). This was the moment when I realised that I left the hotel so quick, that I didn’t even wear socks, not to mention bring any money. I started to browse through my pockets and I finally found 20 Rupees. Not much, but at least something I could offer my saviour. That is why I refused any food or drinks and also told her that 20 Rs is all I had and I wanted to give it to her. She didn’t seem to care too much, so while I was working she brought me chai and kept on refilling it, and I got butter toast to eat.

In the end I spent an hour there. I submitted for my task,  and in addition I chatted with Jessie about my heat for her design month dash challenge, which resulted in an extra placement for one of the designers. I also had a chance to talk to a couple of South Indian tourists there. So all in all I had a great time. When I said goodbye, the lady didn’t accept my 20 Rupees saying that she was a Buddhist, so she likes to help people… I was and am still speechless.

What I have learned

  • Do not expect or assume anything, as you might get it wrong and prevent yourself from a fantastic experience. 
  • At the same time do not expect or assume that you can predict the exact circumstances, especially when you are in a completely different setting from the one you know the best (aka home).
  • Do not give up! On my way back to our hotel I had a chance to compare my feelings from the beginning of this story to the ones at the end. The transition is beautiful and unexpected. I started out with a lot of frustration, fear and anger, and I ended up walking back really satisfied and happy. 

After this story we thought we had seen it all… well as I stated above: do not expect anything 🙂


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