Studio Breakfast with [TonyJ] – Why Google says Topcoder is slow?
Once in awhile, you wonder about your roots, how your parents met, how you were born, what your first words were, how you looked while you were growing. It could mean two possible things, one, you’re getting old my friend, or two, you find history interesting. There is a baby around us that has parents, uncles and aunts, has an interesting history to be told. You get it so far, don’t you? I’ve been very curious about the Topcoder history since when I joined everything was practically “ready”. I’m lucky to count on one super cool guy who helped me with really interesting facts from the past. He is a philanthropist, millionaire, and playboy, Mr. Tony Jefts – ah no wait, that’s Tony Stark (Iron Man), nevertheless our own [TonyJ] could be considered a hero after helping with many things behind scenes in the Topcoder platform nowadays. Seriously, I wouldn’t like to be the person to hear the alarm sound when one of the servers goes down at 3am #prideandjoy. Don’t ask him how many times he has helped me with the things I broke, the list is too large and seriously embarrassing.
Tony has been among us since the early beginnings of Topcoder. He joined back in 2004, by the time when SRMs were the “vedette” of Topcoder and software development track was starting to be a solid possibility. Personally, I think he is one of the most humble and smooth persons I’ve ever met. However, those good things won’t make me forgive him for calling football – the well-known British originated sport – soccer.
SRM CREATED THE PATH
A single round match is one of the most exciting things in Topcoder, it’s competition and adrenaline at their maximum exposure. This vedette carved the path to what Topcoder is today. It was the only reason why members joined Topcoder in the early 2000’s.
The platform was not as polished as it is today, there was no Design, no Development, and no Marathon tracks, not even the popular OR (Online Review) tool, copilot concept, nothing. It took more than one month to organize an SRM, most of the phases of the competition had to be manually executed. Nowadays we can have one or two SRM per month thanks for the automation of the process.
Progressively, the tracks started taking shape, a wide variety of members started joining and the platform polished to what we know today. By the time Tony joined (2004), there weren’t even 50k members. It’s quite impressive the fact that today there is one freaking million members in this talented community.
“It was (and still is) amazing to be able to start to figure out how to create this machine and marketplace where the community could produce valuable deliverables for customers. I jumped in after some really smart and innovative people had already laid some of the foundations”.
Rare website footage from 2004
Rare website footage from 2004
Rare website footage from 2004
Rare website footage from 2004
THE SCRIPTLESS MOVIE
Woody Allen once said that filming a movie without script was a sure failure. If he ever gets the chance and luck to meet me I’ll brag to his face how a small staff team and community members successfully created something cool and powerful out of nothing! It’s sure that the business model of Topcoder has always been something innovative from the beginning, that can make a decision making process very creative and challenging, because of many reasons, but mainly there are not enough references to compare your work with or to educate yourself, such as crowdsourcing when it doesn’t even exist.
“I am just one of the lucky people that has had the opportunity to be part of building something as mind blowing as Topcoder. We were basically trying out a model where we wrapped services (design, architecture, integration, etc.) around component design and component development challenges. After doing that for about a year I started moving into a role where I got more involved in building the platform itself (conceptually and physically). That’s where I got a crash course in really learning how to work with the community in as many ways as possible. For me, I had to create a full product and engineering team from the community along with a few other full time Topcoder staff members. At that point, we only had component design/development and assembly challenges in terms of things we could use to leverage the community to build the platform. So, it wasn’t just building something to spec. In most cases it was first coming up with an idea that would usually be related to tapping into the community in some new way and doing the process engineering exercises to see if the idea had legs to stand on”.
And that’s how everything we know today has been created, Studio (UI Design), Software, TCOs, bug fixing, testing, copilots, everything, and who knows how it keeps evolving. Personally, I think this is not quite done yet; there are so many areas to keep digging into. Additionally, it’s crazy how fast tech industry moves nowadays, it creates more room to evolving and adaptation.
All these facts are very interesting, but once you get to a point to think about what you’ve done, you would probably have done something differently in your life. There should be something.
“Probably would have been quicker to get the community involved more aggressively in our own development. Starting around 2008-2009 is when we really started to get aggressive about it and were really able to start accelerating. That’s when my eyes opened even more than they already had. All of a sudden my new challenge became figuring out how to keep up with the community”.
THE OTHER SIDE OF TCO
I realized that the TCO is somehow selfish; the community members get all the focus, spoils and attention while on the other hand some support actors take actions for organizing and running this amazing event. I don’t complain though, I selfishly like it
I had the chance to participate once in the assembling and disassembling of a TCO. It’s an insane job! Specially to dismount all the arena gadgets and decorations in time record, with Jessie chasing your biological rear parts, commanding with a megaphone because there are only 3 hours to dismount everything! I saw the one and only Iron Man (Tony) lifting heavy boxes and laughing at the same moment. I couldn’t believe someone could be that happy while executing those tasks. But I wonder if that is what he liked the most about TCOs …
“Every once in awhile you gain a decent confidence level in your abilities. Every time I go to the TCO, I’m quickly reminded that everything is relative. The talent in the Topcoder Community is simply mind blowing and extremely humbling. Just getting to be part of it yields a sense of pride for me, even if that means I’m moving boxes around and wrapping up cables. Some of the best memories I have from TCO’s are actually when I get to hang out “off camera” with some members and learn more about them. It’s amazing to learn about the extraordinary accomplishments our members have achieved outside of the Arena and the often interesting lives they lead”.
GOOGLE DOESN’T LIKE TOPCODER
Topcoder has a website out there for a long time. According to member testimonials, they are very happy with Topcoder and think of it as a very profitable community education and finance wise. However it’s funny how you type “topcoder is” in a Google search and nothing positive comes out of it. What are we doing wrong?
“Errr… That’s not good. I’ve actually been trying to improve our SEO, but that wouldn’t really change that. I guess the main thing is to not make our new features slow and constantly strive to improve the experience. Part of what I’m finding is we have data indexed in Google for 10+ years and much of it is hard to get rid of. What’s interesting is that the 2 items at the top of the list are things we’re actively working on improving. On a side note, try your experiment for some of your other favorite brands and see what you get ;)”.
LIGHTNING QUESTIONS ROUND
When you have to reply as fast as you can, you get some pressure on. I don’t like written interviews too much because there is lot of time to think and review, I prefer spontaneous replies! Just like these random questions at speed light!
#1. If you could be one fictional character, who would you be?
Iron Man, of course.
#2. What is your greatest fear?
Not making the most of life, especially when it comes to raising my 3 kids. To quote Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.
#3. If you found out you will die tomorrow, what would be your last meal?
A big plate of chicken parmesan and my mom’s homemade pasta and sauce.
#4. Which living person do you most admire?
It has to be you, right?
#5. Tea or coffee?
STUDIO BREAKFAST: WHERE IS THE FOOD? WHAT THE HECK IS THIS?
If you have read this far you must be wondering what is this kind of unorganized and nonsense writing. Let me tell you something mister/mistress! First, thanks for getting so far, and second, I can tell you what this is NOT, a formal interview. It’s a casual, spontaneous and ordinary 30 minute conversation that I can have with my fellow community brothers and sisters during the morning and try to come up with a summary of any interesting facts I can get from them; again, in a normal slash casual, back and forth conversation about random topics.
Beware, I could possibly knock any door (slack DM), any morning of my weeks to have some chity-chata time with YOU and then go crazy writing about it.
See ya brodas!