Topcoder 7 Years Of Passion

Member since 08/13/05. Specialties include Algorithms, C++, Problem Writing and Blogging

My discovery of TopCoder was an accident – a lucky one. In 2005 I was in my 4th year in university and had a boyfriend who was hardcore at programming competitions. Once I decided to try and see what was this thing that made him wake up at 3:30 am or rush home from mid-date to participate in – what was it called, an SRM? And so I joined TopCoder.

I got hooked on Algorithm contests immediately. The sweet anticipation of Coding Phase (sometimes with an extra bitterness of “will my Arena complete download before registration is over?”), the adrenaline rush of coding against the clock, the frenzy of Challenge Phase and the wearing wait for the final results… After the first couple of matches I was addicted. Between the competitions I’ve read every feature article on the site and every thread in the forums, and still it was not enough to satisfy my addiction. A bit later bimonthly Marathon Matches were introduced for people who need more than two hours of competing per week, and they turned out to be even better than SRMs – less adrenaline-filled but more exploratory.

I started to think what I can do for TopCoder in return for the joy it brought to my life. I tried my hand at writing feature articles before I found my true passion: creating problems for competitions. I wrote my first contest in 2007, and in the next 5 years I’ve developed over 40 contests – a worthy contribution to the noble cause of TopCoder. At the same time I kept competing, both trying out new competitions introduced by TopCoder and enjoying tried-and-true ones, as well as discovering non-TopCoder contests.

Today, more than 8 years after my TopCoder initiation, I’m 99% retired, returning only for an occasional round of TopCoder Open or for a discussion of competitive programming on Quora. But TopCoder left an impact on my life that won’t wear out for decades. Literally.

1. I’ve met a lot of exceptional people, including my husband kit1980 and a lot of my friends, via TopCoder. If you go into competitions, you’re almost guaranteed to meet extraordinary people, because that’s what the community consists of. And some of them might even change your life forever!

2. I’ve traveled to Las Vegas, Florida and Budapest for 4 programming tournaments finals, sometimes as a participant and sometimes as a blogger. I hesitate to name the most amazing of these amazing trips – being in the same room with some of the smartest topcoders working on the same problems is humbling, exhausting and inspiring at the same time. I wouldn’t trade any of these trips for a vacation, no matter how luxurious!

3. I got several job interviews with companies I’d never dare to apply to otherwise. In the end I moved from Ukraine to USA to work for Microsoft – something I could hardly do without competitive programming experience.

4. I got smarter, more confident and more open to new people, challenges and opportunities. I’ve lost count to ventures I’ve embarked on since joining TopCoder, and while not all of them were as ambitious as moving to another country, they’ve all been life-enriching or at least plain fun.

Talk about small decisions that change your entire life!