Highlighting the Women Behind Competitive Coding and Design

Every year, Topcoder holds the Topcoder Open (TCO), our biggest live in-person coding and design competition. And this year, it’s in Dallas, Texas — birthplace of the frozen margarita machine and home to an airport larger than the island of Manhattan. (Both are true.) This competition-centric event brings together our customers and the top-ranking members of our global talent network for programming, design, networking, and real-time innovation. The latter holds true for both for the members competing and for customers getting real-world business projects done.

Innovation is a thing easier said than done, but at TCO, big ideas come to life before our eyes. Women, still the vast minority group in the tech industry, are an important part of what makes our global community diverse in thought and talent. Though we’re always pushing to bring more women to the forefront of our solutions, our competitions, and our community, we still have a long way to go. And we’re excited to get there.

Women at a past TCO

Topcoder CEO Mike Morris says,”In the software industry in general and in our community it has long been a heavy male-populated group. At Topcoder, we value diversity and have worked hard to increase the diversity at both our Topcoder Open and in our community in general. This includes gender diversity, ethnic and geographic diversity, and of course, diversity of thought and talent, which is essential to a crowdsourcing platform. I am excited to see and meet our diverse group of winners next week at the Topcoder Open Finals in Dallas!”

I spoke with two women members of our community who will be at this year’s TCO — Viktória Pere from Hungary and Dilhani Gunawardhana from Sri Lanka (Topcoder handles PereViki and sdgun, respectively) — about their experiences competing, why it’s important that more women get involved in tech, and the ways in which men can support us.

How long have you been a Topcoder member?

VP: I registered at the beginning of May 2018, so I’ll celebrate my first half year soon.

DG: I have been a Topcoder member for the last 6 years.

What kind of work are you most passionate about?

VP: I am a designer, so I mainly participate in design projects. However, I also enjoy bug hunting, especially if it is for a project on which I worked as a designer.

DG: Development — the QA track.

What are you most excited about at this year’s TCO Finals in Texas?

VP: Well… everything! I am really looking forward to meeting people I got to know during the last six months. Do you remember the Blind Melon song from the 90s titled “No Rain”? The video is about a girl in a bee dress who is laughed at by others so she runs away, and at the end, she finds her bee people and they dance together. I think it will feel like that.

In addition, I have never experienced a live design competition, so, to be honest, I’m a bit scared about it. Since there is not too much information about the rules and in what sense it is different from the ordinary online competitions, I cannot get ready for it.

DG: Since this is my first experience at a TCO Final, I am super excited to meet the other finalists.

Why do you think it might be difficult for women to get involved in the tech industry?

VP: Firstly, it seems to me that it is getting easier. Getting back to the reason, it is hard to break away from traditions of any kind. It is not that long ago that the role of women was solely connected to the family and the home. Suffragettes came just a little over a hundred years ago, and women burnt their bras in the 60s to protest inequality. Compared to that it is a huge achievement that in 2011 I met a bunch of girls learning programming in Technopark Trivandrum, a South Indian city where I lived for a short while.

DG: I don’t think there is much difficulty for women to get involved in tech. I have seen many women making successful careers by contributing to the development of the industry.

Why do you think it’s important to get more women involved?

VP: I think we can add our own unique part to the picture. UX is becoming more and more important, which is a human-centered approach; the industry needs more sensitive people to be able to understand those users better. (Studies suggest that women tend to be better at this.)

DG: It’s important to have a diverse workforce. Different perspectives of people can make a huge difference to outcomes.

How can men help women become involved and succeed in the tech industry? (If you think they can.)

VP: If men would like to help women in this matter, they firstly should accept us as partners in the more technical areas. If they help us, in return we can also share insights that they cannot see themselves.

DG: They can encourage their partners, friends, or loved ones who are women to get involved more in the industry.

What do you love most about competing on Topcoder?

VP: One of the best things is the diversity of projects I can get access to.

DG: It’s an extremely competitive community but anybody who has the talent can win the challenges.

What would you change?

VP: It would be nice if we had a chance to validate our ideas/designs on real users and iterate according to their feedback. Or the absolute checkpoint winner could win an hour consultation with the client!

DG: I like it as it is.

Can you tell us about some recent work you’ve won with on Topcoder and why you’re proud of it?

VP: To this question, I usually mention the new Topcoder profile pages challenge, which was the first I ever won on Topcoder. But now as I recently became a design copilot, I think the first challenge I got involved in will be one of my favorites as well. It is the complete redesign of the TCO scoreboards, in which I have a chance to add my own little touches and to collaborate with the development team as well.

DG: I mostly work on QA challenges and win them. I am proud of winning these challenges, along with the highly competitive nature of them.

Best of luck to all of our TCO finalists!