Tomek: "Treat it as a fun game"
tomek's TopCoder career is legendary. Currently the top-ranked Algorithm competitor, some of his past achievements include being a finalist at this year's TopCoder Open, a finalist at last year's Collegiate Challenge, and the Algorithm Champion at three on-site tournaments in a row: The 2003 TCO and both the TCO and TCCC in 2004.
His advice to this year's finalists: "Treat it as a fun game, because it is one, not as a way of making money or anything like that. This way the whole big competition atmosphere -- with the live audience and the media and everything -- will only help you perform well and make it more fun, rather than disturbing you."
When asked what, if anything, he will do differently if he makes it to the finals again at this year's tournament, tomek replies, "As long as I win, I don't need to change anything."
"Last year I was second," he continues. "Well, it was hard to beat Mathijs that time. He was going for the win from the start of the competition, and he succeeded; I was quite happy about coming in second. Less concentration on the speed, and a little more on solution correctness, could have won it for me."
While he is undoubtedly a serious competitor, tomek emphasizes the value of the overall experience, not just of winning.
"The series of TopCoder challenges was one of the factors in my choosing a Ph.D. program in the USA, since it gave me the opportunity to travel to the United States a few times," he says. "More importantly, the challenges let me meet a number of great people who do mathematics and Computer Science research, both in academia and other places, and I am sure it will influence my life a lot."
Gladius: The importance of sleeping and eating
After a third-place finish in 2004, gladius came through to win the Development Championship at the 2005 Collegiate Challenge.
His advice for this year's competitors is very practical: "Make sure to get a good amount of sleep, and eat right before the contest," he says. "That can make an absolutely huge difference in how well you perform! Other than that, just try to relax, and have fun coding or designing."
In terms of his approach to the finals, gladius says he would have to follow his instincts if he were in this year's tournament. "I took a gamble in how I approached the requirements by going for an 'all or nothing' approach," he says. "The risk paid off, and I'd probably do it again, but it's a tough judgment call."
How did winning affect him? "I've been programming for most of my life, and knew that was what I wanted to do, so it didn't affect my career too much," he says. "However, it did generate some very positive news at my university. I hope it encouraged more students to get into computer science."
Aksonov: "Be the best"
A TopCoder Open Component Design finalist in 2003 and 2004, aksonov took home the Design Championship at the 2004 Collegiate Challenge.
"My advice to finalists is to be confident in themselves, and not be nervous," he says. "Music helped me in that regard."
aksonov's strategy for the finals: "If I were in the finals this year I would do the same things as two years ago -- be the best!"
As for the overall experience, winning the 2004 Design championship changed aksonov's life in at least one significant way. "TopCoder proposed a job for me," he says, "and currently I'm a TopCoder contractor!"
What's your advice for the collegiate competitors heading to San Diego next month? Discuss it here.