Booz Allen Sponsored Austin Event – A Recap

May 2, 2017 guestblogger

The following event recap is written by [dwoolley3]. Doug Woolley is a long time Topcoder member and Senior Member Technical Staff (SMTS) – Systems Engineer for Verizon, working in Cloud Computing, utilizing public cloud technologies of Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Attending the TCO17 Austin Regional was a great experience for me, coming from Tampa, Florida.

I attended last year’s regional in the USA, held at the Google office in NYC, so I was looking forward to another thrilling experience at a regional in the USA. Further, I was looking forward to joining up with some friends and acquaintances from the University of Central Florida, who were planning to attend the Austin Regional and had invited me to join them. However, since it was announced that a second regional would be held in the USA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sponsored by Google — and since circumstances did not seem to permit me to attend the event in Texas — I decided to focus only on the September event in Pittsburgh. However, things changed 10 days prior to the Austin Regional when Jessie, [jmpld40], asked if I would be willing to come to Austin and help Nick with the event. I was also asked to give a talk about my Topcoder career and whatever else I’d like to share, similar to what I had done at the NYC Regional last year. After some deliberation, I was able to make this trip happen, and I was glad to have an opportunity to help out with this event and to share the wonderful experiences I’ve had as a competitor and as a Topcoder member over the years.

Flying from Tampa to Austin the night before the event, I lodged in downtown Austin, about a mile away from the Capital Factory, where the event would be held. That evening, I toured around the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas, culminating with a dinner at the University of Texas Club.

In the morning, after a nice breakfast, I headed to the Capital Factory, on the fifth floor of a tall downtown building, adjoining the Omni Hotel. The venue was amazing as there were Star Wars figures placed at the entrance and Star Wars pictures on all the walls in the huge room. I was greeted by the Capital Factory contact, Kristen, and her assistant. I complimented them on the techy room with plenty of power cords coming out of space balls and the floors. They recently got a huge glass table with colorful factory gears that spin underneath the glass of the table. However, since this was in the spot where the presentation would occur, we decided to remodel the room a bit.

Nick Castillo arrived on the scene and it was a pleasure to meet him in person and to work with him in preparing the event and greeting the participants. Nick arranged for the slides of his introductory presentation and my presentation to run off of his computer, which was then hooked up to the large monitor provided to us. We tested things out and found a need to have the monitor replaced, which Capital Factory personnel did with a an even larger functional monitor. Food, snacks, and drinks were setup by Uncle Billy’s catering service. At the front entrance, Julian arranged all the t-shirts according to size and the name badges according to alphabetical order. As each participant arrived, Julian and Natosha signed them in and provided them with a badge, t-shirt, and an individualized wifi code for the network.

Although the doors were to “open” at 12:30pm, many guests were arriving even earlier than that, in anticipation of the event (and to ensure they got a highly-sought-after Topcoder t-shirt). One of the first guests was my friend from the University of Central Florida, Matt Fontaine, who currently serves as an computer instructor and as one of many coaches of the UCF computer teams. I enthusiastically greeted Matt, as I surprised him with my attendance. Accompanying Matt was Michael Kirsche, who was on last year’s UCF computer team that advanced to the world finals, and his girl-friend Brook. Both Michael and Brook are starting their Ph.D. programs, having a unique blend of computer programming with biology (the passions of Michael and Brook, respectively). Going into the contest, I expected Matt (handle: tehqin) and Michael (mkirsche) to be among the winners based on their experience and high ratings.

Many others poured through the doors early, including a young man from Tokyo, Japan, who just happened to be in Austin and had heard about the Regional event. Although this was only his 3rd rated event, he is already highly rated in Topcoder (handle: HandIeNdeed). Another young man came all the way from India, having relocated to the USA only two weeks ago, and now residing in Houston. His uncle and mother accompanied this promising young man to his first competition. Another individual who traveled quite a distance was a gentleman from Ukraine who now lives and works in Seattle, Washington. Evidently, he is quite experiences in Top Coder (handle: AlMag). I enjoyed meeting each of these guests and the many others.

In addition to having representatives from UCF, whose school is advancing to the world college finals in programming again this year, there were representatives from the local University of Texas, whose programming team is also advancing to the world finals this year. It was a pleasure to introduce these UT team members to the UCF team members/coaches. There was quite a bit of talent and enthusiasm in the room for computer programming, algorithms, and contests.

I also had the privilege of meeting two high school students from a somewhat local Texas school. Another gentleman works for Amazon. Having recently attained AWS (Amazon Web Services) certification in Development and also in Solutions Architecture, I appreciated the company for which he works. It was also a privilege to meet Ryan, whose handle is “Ryan” too, and has been actively engaged in the work force for the past few years and thus has been less involved in Topcoder. Yet, come to find out, he had been one of the most active participants of Topcoder over the past 15 years (or so), and had attained a very high rating. There were many other wonderful people who attended the event, most of whom I got to meet before the start of the activities.

After snacking a little, talking with others, and some playing card games, we all gathered promptly at 1:30pm in the comfortable couches and chairs for Nick’s presentation about Topcoder, followed by my presentation on my Topcoder journey and background in competitions. Since Nick finished early and we had plenty of time to kill before 3pm, I took the liberty to give an elongated version of my presentation. I can only hope that some of the competitors were as encouraged and enlightened by the presentation, as I was passionate about the topic and enthused to give the presentation. I tried to make it intriguing and understandable for the first-time competitor in Topcoder, yet make it interesting also for the experienced (and highly-competitive) members. Since it had been three decades since I had competed in high school computer competitions and subsequently conducted statewide contests for high school teams in Florida, I was amazed when I found out that Topcoder was an international programming competition that is open to programmers of ALL AGES and not just for high school or college students. Soon after researching the Topcoder site and practicing some of the easier problems from past contests, I participated in my first contest on July 21, 2012. Ever since then, I have been hooked on this contest of interesting problems, competing in real time against people from all over the world. It’s amazing. As a result, I’ve now competed in 159 consecutive SRM’s over the past 5 years. I trust that my enthusiasm for the competitions was evident and maybe even contagious. I’ve enjoyed attending the onsite TCO’s and meeting the best programmers in the world. I like learning from them and growing in my skills; and it is just plain “fun” to solve these kinds of problems in a competitive environment. My speech ended with a few questions and answers. Afterwards, at 3pm, we all headed to our special spots to officially register for the contest in the arena and get prepared to compete.

At 3:26pm, we were all divided into two different virtual rooms. Those that were sitting in close proximity to each other were interested in knowing who was in their particular room. From my table, it just so happened that the three of us that were on one side of the table were in one virtual room, and the two that were on the other side of the table were in the second virtual room. At precisely 3:30pm (CT), the contest started. The problem points were standard: 250, 500, and 1000.

The first problem was a great problem for first-time competitors, so I am very glad that it was easy enough for almost everyone to be able to submit. This was especially good because almost half of all the competitors were first-timers, who had “white-colored” handles. Nevertheless, there were many experienced and highly rated competitors in the competition. I happened to be sitting next to Michael, who immediately pounded away at his keyboard and submitted the first problem in blazing speed for 249.17 points. Very soon thereafter, Matt, sitting across the table from me, submitted his for 248.66 points. Both of these guys are incredible and I got to see it, hear it, and feel it in person!

The second problem had several requirements to produce a “plus sign,” but once understood, it turned into a interesting challenge to implement. Approximately half of all the contestants submitted a solution for this problem. Even though none of these solutions were successfully challenged during the challenge phase, almost half of them failed the system test. Unfortunately, mine was one of them. Later on, after the contest, I relooked at my code and noticed a missing variable that should have been added in two of the “for loops.” Don’t you just hate that when that happens! Oh well.

The third problem was opened by many but only submitted by two: Matt and Michael. Unfortunately, both of their problems failed in the system test, and they realized their mistakes after the contest. I guess that happens to a lot of people :). Nevertheless, they are to be commended for being the only ones to submit all three program solutions.

After the 1 hour and 15 minutes of programming, there was a 5 minute break followed by a 15 minute challenge phase among contestants in one’s room. While there were quite a few challenges attempted by the higher-rated contestants, only 1 challenge was successful: by Michael. However, even Michael did not benefit from the challenge phase as he had 4 unsuccessful challenges, giving him a net of 50 – (4 x 25) = -50 points. For me, I took a chance and challenged a newbie on his second problem, hoping that he may have missed one of the requirements of the surrounding box being “odd numbered” in size. Unfortunately, as Ryan pointed out to me afterwards, one of the given test cases would not have passed if this requirement was not met. Furthermore, I just happened to challenge the first-timer that would become the highest rated first-timer (of this contest) after the contest had ended. It was funny as he recognized that I had attempted to challenge him and he approached me after the contest with a smile saying that I was not successful in challenging him (handle: ameed). I trust he will continue to enjoy Topcoder contests.

While awaiting the final results from the system test, we ate cheeseburgers, provided by Uncle Billy’s catering service, along with other goodies. Next, we engaged in some Star Wars trivia, posed by Nick. The person with the most correct answers won $20 cash. Nick then received the final results from Tim Kirchner, the Topcoder admin running the competition virtually.

At the revealing of the scores, the top 10 were shown, with places 4 – 10 appearing. Next, the top three were shown in order of 3rd, 2nd, and 1st. Each of these contestants won $100, $150, and $250, respectively. I was happy to see that my friend, Matt (handle tehqin), came in 3rd, with a score of 521.29. The gentleman from Ukraine (living in Seattle) took 2nd (handle AlMag) with a score of 521.29. In first place was Matt’s friend (and my new friend), Michael (handle mkirsche), with a score of 609.88. What a thrill for Michael Kirsche, as this win enabled him to attain a red-colored handle for the first time ever, which was his long-time goal.

Be sure to check out the match editorial to learn more about the problems here.


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