"My TCCC05 Experience"

by supernova,
TopCoder Member

The Longest Day of my Life
I am wearing four layers of clothes. It's 12 AM and it's cold outside. The bus finally arrives and the next stop is Budapest. My journey has just begun – it's 1:00 AM and there are almost thirty hours to count till I reach my final destination. Finally, I fall asleep. When I wake up, I wait for a light outside to check my watch. It's 1:15 AM. I eventually reach the airport in Budapest at 6:00 AM. The flight to Frankfurt is scheduled for 10:20 AM. Quite a challenge, considering my high energy level. Oh, no! It's only 5:00 AM. Time change …

Now I am finally on the plane. I am enjoying the flight and I am enjoying my sandwich. An hour in the sky, another two in the Frankfurt airport. At 2:00 PM, a fat plane takes off. It is a Boeing 747 and luckily, I am inside. They gave out headphones, so I am trying to adjust them. With a TV in front of me, a book to read and a sympathetic stewardess asking me from time to time if I need anything, the flight is quite enjoyable. But I eventually discover that the button with a human-shaped figure is not for the headphones. So, if you ever travel on a Boeing 747, remember this: There is a button to "Call the stewardess." Please use it sparingly! You probably only have three or four attempts … :)

It is only 4:00 PM and I am already at the San Francisco airport. With a car provided by TopCoder, I am taken to the Santa Clara Marriott Hotel. I receive a credit card, but there is no money on it! It's just my room key … So I go to my room and prepare to jump in bed. But kalinov is sleeping and fortunately, I see him in time. There is still a bed left, I claim it, I take a shower and then I go out for a walk. In the evening, I go to a pizza with my two Romanian colleagues: MPhk and adic.

First Contacts
mathijs & supernova I wake up and it is only 6:00 AM. I start my morning program at the fitness center, enjoying the sophisticated workout equipment. Then, I continue with thirty laps of swimming. But the day is just beginning! At 9:00 AM I go, together with kalinov, to the Competitor Game Room. As soon as we get there, we receive a warm welcome from mbnd96. I now start to meet the other competitors. It is really great to meet all these people in person; till now we only had the chance to chat in the TopCoder arena. TopCoder admin mess takes some of us to a table and teaches a new version of Poker: Texas Hold'em. Then, I play a game of chess with mathijs. At 2:00 PM the Poker Tournament starts, so we all sit down and receive 1000 "dollars" in playing chips. After losing all my chips, I get a t-shirt for finishing in 4th place. But mathijs wins a fortune: a set TopCoder-branded poker chips, a backpack and t-shirt that he is hiding from us so that we won't be too jealous …

TopCoder Poker Tournament was quite a great opener and now, here we are in the Grand Ball Room! This is where the competition is to take place and everything is set. The competitors will walk on a podium situated in the center of the room and take a seat at one of the eight computers. There is also a computer with a huge screen open to the public, from which you can login on TopCoder arena and share your enthusiasm with the members watching the competition online. And to make this event even more spectacular, there are eight screens from which you can see what the competitors are actually doing. The organizers must have put a lot of effort into it! After watching all these impressive things, I retreat in a corner to have a drink. I am approached by an NVIDIA representative and we share a few thoughts. I spot a cookie in the other corner and look, it's Yahoo! Going to the next corner, I meet with the Motorola representatives. They are all great people!

It's show time!
After my usual morning routine, I go to the NVIDIA presentation, where we are told a few things about the efforts behind a project and what it takes to develop the high quality graphics we see today. The main feature of this presentation was a graceful mermaid called Nalu, which is Hawaiian for Wave. Now we are all heading towards the Competition Room, where the first set of Semifinalists have 100 minutes to show off their skills! In the dim lights, the fighters are introduced to the arena. One by one. The way they have been introduced reminds me of Mortal Kombat, a game I played in childhood. For the next four hours I walk around Santa Clara to find a library. I guess it's pretty bad to live in America without a car.

At the Motorola presentation I find out other interesting things regarding the evolution of mobile devices and the huge variety and functionality of the products we see today. A tombola has been announced, so maybe I'll be lucky enough and get one of these …

supernova in the Spectator Showdown But the event I had been waiting for the most was the Spectator Showdown. From 5 PM to 5:30 PM I am working fiercely to solve the two problems. The time limit is always two minutes less than I need, but this is actually one of the reasons I love TopCoder competitions so much. At 6:30 PM we all go to the Yahoo! Evening Event. It's quite impressive to see the headquarters of such a large company for the first time and to listen to what the experienced employees have to say about the cutting edge technologies and the problems with which they are confronting today. They are young and jovial people, always happy to share their experience with us. I also receive an invitation to join the summer Internship Program. I believe it is an excellent opportunity to work in a team of brilliant people and to also prepare for the challenges of the future. The world is changing rapidly and I want to be a part of the change.

At Yahoo!

Late in the evening, I am in the hotel lobby and play a game of scrabble with mathijs, krijgertje, Jan_Kuipers and Rustyoldman.

And some take the money…
The morning starts with another contest and I am enjoying the "battle". At 1:00 PM we receive a visit from Steven Skiena, Professor of Computer Science at the SUNY Stony Brook. He gives an inspiring speech and defines the qualities of a top programmer. After lunch, I go to watch the Algorithm Finals. It is an exciting event as the problems seem very hard and the finalists struggle to claim the top position. In the end, mathijs wins the algorithm contest, adic wins the design contest and gladius wins the development contest.

The Awards Reception takes place poolside. We all enjoy each other's company and the top performers also receive valuable prizes. But no matter the prizes, it was a unique experience for all of us!

In the evening I learn a new card game called Rage and I win it. I don't know why they call it Rage. After that, I go for a little swim and I see tomek releasing his negative energy.

San Francisco
The competition is now over, but there is still one more day left. I decide to leave my hotel room and go to San Francisco, together with my new TopCoder friends. There are plenty of places to visit and our time is short. But if you are wise, you can optimize your itinerary and spend some quality time. So we walk the streets up and down, we visit the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, we reach the San Francisco Bay, we explore a ship and then we walk on Lombard Street, one of the most beautiful streets in the world. Well … if you are lucky like overwise, you can book a hotel and enjoy the city two days more!

The old famous trolley car

Eryx ponders

Close-up of a seagull

Goodbye San Francisco

As for the evening, we meet again in the hotel lobby and play another game of cards.

One final glance
I go to the pool again. Just two days ago, this place teamed with the best coders in the world. Now it is really quiet. All I can hear is a gentle breeze. I enter the hot tub to soak in the open air. To the left there is the fitness center and alongside the larger pool in the right, there are the exotic trees. It is very relaxing and wonderful to watch, but I am a little tired from all the excitement of the last few days, so I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

When I open my eyes, the glamorous trees are no longer there. The sun has disappeared. The water is still warm, but it feels like I am in a bathtub. I look around. I am home! This has to be an illusion. How can the trees vanish like this? I want to see them again! I close my eyes and try to bear their image. And when I wake up, hurray! I can see them. They are right there: on my desk. Ordinary trees maybe - but they can grow binary. Or they can grow red and black. And maybe one day … they will become again exotic.

Thank you TopCoder for helping me fulfill a dream!