Get Time
A Matter of Time
dmwright Began Journey To Title At Age Six

Wednesday, April 24, 2002
By Adam Loss,TopCoder Staff Writer

A pump of his fists, a loud hand clap, and exclamation of "Yes!" was the reaction of evd when it was announced that fellow Stanford University student dmwright had won the 2002 Sun Microsystems and TopCoder Collegiate Challenge on Saturday April 20, at the University Park Hotel @ MIT in Cambridge, MA.

The reaction of dmwright, however, was more of relief than of exuberance. That's because after finishing in a tie for ninth at the 2001 Collegiate Challenge, and the runner-up position in the 2001 Invitational, dmwright had finally climbed to the top of the TopCoder mountain.

"It's really nice to win after making the semifinals in last year's Collegiate Challenge and Invitational," said dmwright. "My adrenaline was flowing, and I really got absorbed in the problems. I was able to block out all of the spectator activity, and finally submit code without any bugs in it. Bugs in my code have cost me in past major tournaments."

The Tournament

At the welcome reception, dmwright, the assumed favorite due to his tournament experience and overall TopCoder rating, was confident yet humbled by his 15 opponents. "I'm sure everyone here has beaten me in a Single Round Match before, so I have to make sure that I don't make the same mistakes which have cost me in past tournaments. I came very, very close to winning $100,000 in the previous Invitational maybe this time I'll be lucky"

The next morning at 11am, dmwright, showing no signs of jet lag, let all of the competitors and attendees know that he meant business. In the most impressive performance of the tournament, dmwright submitted code for all three problems, and easily won his room with 1114.91 final points. That point total was the highest of the Collegiate Challenge. dmwright also had the largest margin of victory, 548.32, and was the only competitor in all of the rounds to successfully code all three problems in one match.

When asked about returning for his second consecutive appearance in a TopCoder major tournament final after the match, he stated, "I'm not nervous at all. "I'll just treat it like a Single Round Match, and block everyone else around me out."

dmwright used a bit of strategy in the Finals, attempting to code the Level Two problem first, rather than following the path of his competitors who attempted the easier Level One problem. When the other competitors had already submitted their codes for the Level One problem and moved onto the Level Two problem, and dmwright was still compiling and testing his initial problem, some spectators thought dmwright had made a grave mistake. "The Level Two problem was very technical. I had to be careful because it was easy to make an error." dmwright finally submitted the Level Two problem for 274.20 points, and then opened the Level Three problem. When asked about his strategy for opening the Level Two problem first, and then going for the Level Three problem, dmwright responded, "Even if it took a little longer to code, the Level Two and Three problems are worth more points, so I figured I could outscore the coders who attempted to code the Level One and Two problems in succession."

His strategy paid off, even though he had to leave the Level Three problem to go back to code the Level One problem, as all three of his opponents could only submit code for the Level One problem. After some pretty tense moments in the Challenge Phase, when both of his submissions were thoroughly examined by malpt and derkuci, and a very quick system test, dmwright finally took his place among TopCoder royalty.

"I am very happy for dmwright," said 2001 TopCoder Invitational champion and friend, jonmac. "He is very dedicated to these competitions and has arguably put more time and effort into TopCoder than any other competitor during the last year. This is an achievement that highlights Daniel's unparalleled analytical capacity, and his ravenous competitive skills. I felt this victory was inevitable for Daniel; nonetheless, I am still overjoyed and ecstatic for Daniel, in a cathartic sense. Now we can finally introduce ourselves as 'The TopCoders'. Perhaps we can pool our money together to purchase a solid gold couch."

When informed that dmwright had won the Collegiate Challenge, Hector Garcia-Molina, Chairman of Stanford's Department of Computer Science, replied, "I am delighted to hear that dmwright won this year's TopCoder Award. This makes it two in a row for Stanford's Computer Science department! I had Daniel in one of my classes this year. He is brilliant, yet unassuming. He is definitely someone to keep an eye on!"

dmwright - The Early Years

Ken Griffey, Jr. Barry Bonds. Brett Hull. dmwright. Think the four of them don't have anything in common? Well you'd be wrong if you did. While Griffey, Bonds and Hull are all products of fathers who were professional athletes, dmwright is the son of two parents who were programmers. Although TopCoder is only a year old, dmwright started preparing himself for these type of competitions 15 years ago. dmwright began his coding at the age of six. "My parents didn't push me, but rather assisted me and showed me how to do cool things," said dmwright. "My first code was in BASIC and it went something like this,":
10: print "Hello. What is your name?"
20: input name$
30: print "Hello";name$,".My name is also ";name$

Years later, the parents of dmwright continue to see the fruits of their labor and love. "My parents often check the results of my competitions on the TopCoder website."

dmwright came to the United States from South Africa in 1999, following his graduation from high school. And although his family settled in Colorado, dmwright decided to attend California's Stanford University. "Stanford has a very respected Computer Science department. "I loved the atmosphere and the weather. Also, in case I decided to change my major, Stanford offers a number of other interesting courses of study."

To be a great college athlete, many hours of commitment are required. Athletes must practice, lift weights, watch game films, and travel among many other time consuming activities. While these tasks might improve a students stock on the field of battle, they many times severely affect the performance of that student inside the classroom. To be a great coder, the same time of commitment is required. The results, however, are more than often seen where they are supposed to in college, on the report card. While lifting weights, watching game films and traveling aren't a part of a coders common lifestyle, practice most certainly is, and according to dmwright, competing in TopCoder's twice-weekly Single Round Matches has aided in his school work. "I am definitely a better and faster coder due to competing in TopCoder."

"I enjoy coding and I enjoy competition, perhaps in the same way that many people enjoy competitive sports. Especially given that I am now familiar with most of the highly ranked TopCoder members, I enjoy matching my skills against theirs. TopCoder's rating system places coders of similar skills against each other, so there is seldom an easy contest."

"I like the recognition that I believe this will bring when I look for jobs. Of course, I also like the substantial prize money - that is perhaps the main factor that has kept me competing for so long."

The TopCoder Experience

"Competing for so long" and "substantial prize money" are both accurate statements to describe dmwright, being that he is one of the TopCoder originals, becoming a member on April 3, 2001. "A friend of mine, and now fellow competitor, saw a TopCoder flyer for last year's Collegiate Challenge and told me about it. Since I'd competed in some different programming challenges in high school, and done fairly well (he finished first at the International Olympiad in Informatics in 1998), I figured I had a reasonable chance of doing well. So I entered the contest, and I've entered almost every TopCoder challenge since then."

dmwright has competed in 71 of the 80 Single Round Matches, winning a total of $16,314. Coupled with the $5,750 he won at the 2001 Collegiate Challenge, the $25,000 from the 2001 Invitational, and his most recent $100,000 victory, dmwright has won a total of $147,064, the most of any TopCoder member. Besides winning the 2002 Collegiate Challenge, dmwright is TopCoder's most prolific Single Round Match winner, having won his room 46 times. That's 20 more room wins than the nearest member! It has also produced a winning percentage of 64.8% (46 for 71), which is remarkable, considering there is only a 10% (10 coders per room in a Single Round Match) chance of winning each match. Fourteen of those wins have come during consecutive wins streaks. His six match winning streak from Single Round Match 51-56 is tied for the third longest in Division-I, while his four match win streaks from Single Round Match 59-62 and 64-67 are tied for seventh.

The reasons dmwright wins so much? He rarely makes mistakes, as his Submission Accuracy percentage of 86.76% and his 84.21% Challenge Success, will attest too.

His advice for other coders who are thinking about participating in competitions? "Try it. I know many people who thought they had no chance of doing well, so they didn't compete for a long time. Then when they did start, they did very well."

The Future

As far as what the future holds for dmwright, it's a good bet that you'll find him if you log onto TopCoder during an upcoming Single Round Match. "I'll keep competing so I don't get rusty."

If you do happen to see him in person, don't bother asking for a loan. dmwright has plans for his winnings. "I'm going to try to be reasonable with it. I'll put some of it toward my education - Stanford isn't exactly inexpensive. Then, maybe I'll buy a car or something like that. Mostly, I'll try to save it for the future." Assuming that future means more competitions, the TopCoder accounting staff might want to keep their checkbook handy.

Have an idea for the weekly feature?