A TCO Experience

This post was written by [dwoolley3]

Attending TCO15 as a guest was a great experience for me, coming from Tampa, Florida. Although I did not qualify for the onsite semi-finals in Algorithms, I enjoyed meeting the finalists, sponsors, and guests from around the world, and I enjoyed seeing the competitions live on stage and via overhead monitors. This was my fourth consecutive TCO that I attended and each one has been special. This year the event was held at the magnificent Omi Severin Hotel in Indianapolis, just a few blocks away from Appirio’s new headquarters. Although the venue was smaller than the previous three years, it was first-class as always.

Upon leaving the registration table, I was warmly greeted by Jessie, and we quickly caught upon on our lives since last seeing each other. Upon entering the room where the Marathon match was in progress, I was cordially greeted by Tim, who has been instrumental in running all the SRM matches and everything related to the competitive competitions. Scanning the room, I next noticed faces of people that I had seen in the TCO14 Epilogue video but had never met in person. Thus, it was nice to approach and meet Monica and Daniela and others, in person. Many others in the room I had recognized and met in previous TCO’s and I was glad to see them again. Further, I was glad to meet several others that I had never seen or met previously. Meeting people sometimes occurred in the context of walking to the various overhead monitors, with each monitor showing a different Marathon finalist coding his solution and running the test cases. It was fascinating to see shades of green pixels (of grass) being mowed in various directions and according to various patterns, as simulated by the contestant’s program.

After the 10-hour Marathon competition ended, about 40 of us walked to the Appirio facility, looked around, and then engaged in a fun-filled Trivia competition, as we formed teams of 3 (or 2) members. The game was much more fun than I had anticipated (and wrong answers were concealed nicely); yet each member of my team felt good as we often knew a particular answer that others on the team did not know and thus contributed towards an increase of the overall team score. I was thrilled to recall the answer to a “TCO trivia” question that asked who performed a spectacular hand-flip upon being introduced at a prior TCO, which was recorded and watched by many others on the Internet. My answer was correct: Chokodai from Japan, whom I had met at that particular TCO. I had been a fan of his, since he was among the best C# coders in the Algorithm competitions and I had coded in C# at that time and learned from his coding techniques and style. I’ve now been coding in Java for the past two years. During the trivia, we were also provided with snacks and drinks to enjoy.

I must admit that I always look forward to the fine meals offered at the TCO competitions, especially as they have often been hosted at fine hotels. Dinner was awesome, breakfast was good, and lunch was exceptional. During breakfast, conversation around the table varied but, for a while, we talked about the interesting questions that were posed during the trivia contest the night before and the overall experience we had with it.

A high-point for me was watching the Algorithms semi-final round of 12 top coders. It was of special interest to me to see and meet two participants from USA: Scott Wu (attending Harvard University) and Andrew He (attending MIT). In coming to Indianapolis, I was hoping for an opportunity to interact with Scott, and I was glad to have dinner with him the night before. Over the past 3 years, I have followed his rise among the world’s top-ranked programmers and his recent successes on the USA high school computing team at International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). As the semi-finals began, Petr (from Russia) and Tourist (from Belarus) took an early lead, solving the first of three problems very quickly. Tourist and Petr were the favorites going into this match, being the world champions in 2014 and 2013, respectively, and having the highest rating world-wide among all participants. Soon thereafter, Scott Wu submitted his solution, giving him a good score for problem one. A few others eventually solved problem one also, and one of them realized a mistake in the first submission and resubmitted the problem. Surprisingly, Petr realized a mistake in his original solution, fixed it, and then resubmitted his solution, resulting in a lower score (but a correct solution). Nevertheless, this identification of a flaw in his code enabled Petr to successfully challenge two others during the Challenge phase, since they had a similar flaw in their code. Given that the first problem was tricky and tripped several top programmers, it is understandable that Scott checked, double-checked, and triple-checked his solution before eventually opening problem two. Although the two Americans did not qualify for the finals, Scott’s original submission was correct and earned him the 2nd fastest (and thus 2nd highest score) for problem number one. The dramatic revealing of the System Test results is always spectacular, with oohs, aahs, and clapping. The most shocking part was seeing Tourist’s solution to problem two fail the system test, thus placing him out of range to qualify for the finals. We all felt bad for him; yet, this shows that even Gennady (Tourist) is human, :), as he rarely makes mistakes. In the end, Petr won the semi-finals and the top 5 advanced to the finals. Petr had an amazing performance in the finals, having placed first with a score that was three times as large as the second place finisher (kuniavski) who was the only other coder to correctly solve a problem: (tough contest). I was happy for my friend, ACRush (Tony), in winning the Marathon match. He has qualified for the finals in this event for many years and now he finally won the world championship!

I was thrilled to get a group picture with my heroes, who have been world champions over the past few years: Petr, Tourist (Gennady), Egor, and ACRush (Tony). I noticed that once I had gathered together this elite group, then others wanted to also take that picture and others wanted to jump in the picture. Who could blame them? What a special opportunity that was.

In between the semi-finals and the finals of the Algorithms competition, three teams demonstrated their hackathon projects that they had worked on for the prior day and a half. Over that time, I had gotten to know each of those contestants and enjoyed interacting with them, hanging out with them, and just encouraging them. As a web developer, I can appreciate their work. I was glad that each of these three teams won cash awards for their fine efforts. Special congratulations to yedtoss (from Benin) for his dynamic presentation and winning project with nhandh (from Vietnam). Yedtoss was going to treat me for dinner if they won, but I had to catch a flight immediately after the award ceremony, so I’ll take a rain check on that :).

At the award ceremony, I was surprised to be given the “2015 Top Coder Open Spirit Award.” I am very passionate about these competitions and enjoy meeting, engaging, and learning from the best in the world. It was an amazing TCO experience for me.

Doug Woolley (dwoolley3)