Getting To Know Ghostar
How did you find out about the Topcoder?
I first registered as a Topcoder member almost 10 years ago, in my last year of college. I don’t remember exactly why, but I’m guessing a professor or fellow student recommended it. I didn’t do much right away, as there wasn’t much that interested me at the time. I’m not great at algorithms, and could tell I didn’t stand a chance in any of the competitions. In late 2004, I got an email from Topcoder talking about the new software competitions, so I checked it out and started competing a bit, earning some money in the process. There wasn’t a huge amount of competition at the time, so it was pretty easy to just pass review and earn some money.
What does your quote “-”mean?
I don’t have a good quote to put there, so it’s just a placeholder until I come up with a good one.
Where do you usually work? Can you show us your work place?
Pic attached of my desk. I just got a new top-of-the-line 27” iMac a couple of weeks ago. I work in the basement of a building my wife and I own. My wife and I live on an apartment on the second floor, she has a bakery on the first floor, and I have a room in the basement with my computers, and an Xbox 360 all set up.
Freelancers usually distract on tons of things while working. Do you have any technique to concentrate on your work?
I try to break large tasks down into relatively small “micro” tasks that normally take 15-20 minutes. This way I can stay focused on a single task for that period of time, get it done, and check it off my todo list. By constantly having small tasks to do that are easily accomplished, it helps keep me focused without feeling overwhelmed by large amounts of things to do.
To keep track of all the online news and blogs I read, I use Reeder on my iPads and my Mac (http://reederapp.com/). It makes it easy to go through all the updates for all the sites I like to follow in a very short amount of time.
What are your favorite online resources?
For just keeping up with technology, I like engadget.com. It’s always good to know what’s coming, especially for mobile development, which I am trying to focus on more.
For day-to-day Topcoder management, I usually sit in OR, TC direct, and the forums. Gmail is my main website.
Otherwise, for random questions or things I get stuck on, Google is how I can find quick answers or solutions.
Do you use any tools, which help you to achieve such great performance in copiloting? If you developed any of them, did you create design for tool before developing?
Nothing more than what TC gives us in terms of OR and TC Direct. Obviously I use the TC UML tool quite a bit, which I was the main copilot on for a couple of years.
Other than that, it’s just standard stuff to stay organized and on task:
Wunderlist for todo lists, since it syncs with my Mac, my iPads, and my Android phone
Evernote for general note taking, again because of the syncing
Textmate for all the text files and code updates I do
Versions for SVN management, which I have to do a lot
iTerm2 for managing and working on EC2 VMs
Xcode for my iPad projects
VirtualBox for testing on Windows, since I don’t have a dedicated Windows computer anymore.
What is the win/achievement you’re proud of?
The success of the UML Tool is probably the biggest long term achievement I have to this point. I am working on a project right now with Topcoder that I am really excited about, but unfortunately I can’t talk about it due to client restrictions
What is Topcoder’s biggest contribution to your life?
Working for Topcoder has given me immense freedom in terms of how my life can be structured. I have the freedom to work whenever and wherever I want (as long as I have an internet connection), and I can work as much or as little as I want to as well. I get paid more than I ever could in a “normal” job in my geographic area, and the financial freedom has allowed me to travel and do things I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, as well as get my wife set up in her bakery, which has been great.
Also, this winter we will be traveling into the southern US, away from our very, very cold winter climate where we live, to spend a few months in warmer areas. I will still be doing Topcoder work, just in a different area of the country. I wouldn’t be able to do that in a “normal” job.
In addition, I have met a huge number of talented people that I wouldn’t normally have been connected with. The person I have probably connected with the most outside of Topcoder is invisiblepilot. She has done a bunch of graphics design and web design work for me on external projects, and always does an amazing job, like on my wife’s bakery website: http://adashofdelicious.com. I hope to have projects in the future where I can connect with specific members.
What is your advice for new Topcoder members?
Stick with it. You will likely not do well your first couple of competitions, but you will eventually figure things out. Topcoder’s extremely high standards will permeate from the competitions you work on into other projects as well, making you a much more valuable engineer and worker.
What are your favorite things to do when you aren’t working?
My wife and I travel quite a bit, and I help her out in the bakery when she asks (http://adashofdelicious.com) I also watch a lot of movies and British and Australian TV (Top Gear, MasterChef Australia, MI-5, The IT Crowd etc…)
Do you have any plans for your career / life?
Plans never seem to work out the way you envisioned, so I think it’s best just to kind of roll with whatever you are faced with at any given time. I would like to eventually scale back on Topcoder work and focus more on traveling, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
Thank you, Ghostar, for telling us your story and good luck in your projects! I hope to visit your wife’s bakery sometime in futurestrong