Women’s History Month Series: Of Challenges and Competitions! (Part I)

International Women’s Day calls for a very special post. So here we are…

Following up on the previous post in the Women’s History Month series, I got in touch with four women from the Topcoder Community, from four different corners of the world. For this first part, here’s what two of them had to say about being a part of Topcoder and their views and perceptions on gender parity.

Mariia Mykhailova

Topcoder Handle: nickolas

From: Ukraine

Lives in: USA

Mariia joined Topcoder in 2005. Although she started out competing in challenges, she has been a problem writer for more than 10 years now. Her conspicuous masculine handle has been on my mind for a while.

“My handle originated from a joke on my university classmates. I joined Topcoder to participate in TCO in 2005, and at that time they were looking for a person for their ACM team. I thought it would be funny to choose a emphatically masculine handle and make them wonder who is this guy from their university. Well, the joke didn’t succeed as much as I’d hoped, but the results of joining Topcoder exceeded my expectations!”

Mariia happens to have an interesting family tradition. She’s a third-generation techie, preceded by both her mother and grandmother. She had a pretty straightforward take on why she has pursued a career in STEM: “I tried programming early enough (when I was about 12) and liked it immediately, so I never questioned what other things I could do for a living.”

A general concern with women is the lack of flexibility in conventional workplaces. But Mariia points out that there’s no point in freelancing —  with Topcoder or other such platforms — if one is not earning enough, even after covering one’s cost of living without putting in long hours of work on a regular basis.

“That is the whole point, right? Besides, I’ve never found it terribly hard to do just one thing at a time —  just a full-time job, or just studies, or just competitive programming (for a very brief period of time). Juggling several things at once — that’s when things become interesting. For the majority of my career I’ve combined studies and a job, or a job and competitive programming, or all three, and I’m pretty sure a lot of men would struggle with a schedule like that, not just women.”

Monica Muranyi

Topcoder Handle: monicamuranyi

From: Romania

Lives in: Austria

Monica has been a member since 2010 and is one of the top developers in the community. She’s also a multi-year TCO finalist and project reviewer. Much like Mariia, Monica thinks that the challenges faced by men and women are the same within a traditional (full-time) work environment.

Based on my own experience, I can say that in all the conventional workplaces I’ve worked, the same challenges applied to both men and women: typical office routines, no work-life balance, no flexibility in choosing projects. The latter is taken care of to a great extent within the Topcoder model.”

She counts being able to take breaks at will as an advantage that competing full time on Topcoder gives her. Monica also stresses the scope of learning, the freedom to pick projects, and the comparatively high prize money for the winning submissions as deciding factors for her to start competing on Topcoder.  

“I get to choose the projects, the days, and timeline for my work, so I have a lot of flexibility. In addition, the work I have done on Topcoder has earned me interview invitations from companies I admire. That’s an honor that cannot be expressed in words or in terms of money.”

On their personal experiences with gender parity  

Both Monica and Mariia have moved to different countries, but for very different reasons. Mariia got a job with Microsoft and moved to Washington, USA. Monica, on the other hand, moved to Vienna because the Austrian culture fascinates her and also because she finds Vienna to be a child-friendly city (she’s a new mother). I asked them their views on gender parity within a cultural context and the role men and society play in helping bring about equality at large.

Mariia elaborated on how her husband stepped up when they moved out of Ukraine:

“I was starting a new job in a completely new (and English-speaking) environment — a fairly stressful endeavor. At the same time I had almost a year of extramural studies at the Yandex school of algorithms to finish. My husband stepped up and took care of all homemaking duties and everything that needs to be taken care of when moving to a different country (learning to drive, getting a car, figuring out how to do the taxes). Besides, he’s a much better cook than me, so I never cook —  well, these days when we both have full-time jobs and hobbies we just eat takeout!”

Monica recounted her experience of living in societies that didn’t impose gender stereotypes:

“I was lucky enough to live in communities that treat women and men equally and they have the same opportunities. At least, that is how I felt. But I definitely know there are many communities where this is not the case and it’s important to have supporters of gender equality. I think a good education from a young age that doesn’t promote gender stereotypes is important in this regard. So I would say that the most important supporters of gender equality I know are my teachers and my parents.”

Next, we have smtryingcode and idblack talking about how it feels to be top performers at Topcoder and their views on gender parity (or the lack of it!).