Competing at Topcoder as a Full-Time Job

March 28, 2018 birdofpreyru

The competition is an important aspect of Topcoder community. Large prizes are paid to the winners of data-science, design, and software development challenges, that are open to everybody. It looks like a sport, where the top athletes win the fame and fortunes, while the ordinary people just practice it for fun in their leisure time. It feels like a gambling, where one day a player celebrates a large victory, and the other week he goes to his friends to borrow some money for food. The reality is different, however, with larger and easier profits than you might expect.

Have a look at the listing of completed Topcoder challenges. Most of the regular challenges get not that many submissions, e.g. a standard code challenge offers two prizes and usually gets one to four submissions. This is the result of hard work done by Topcoder sales team: if a challenge with particular technology stack gets too many good submissions, it is a clear indication that community can do more such work than currently offered at the platform, and the effort is done to attract more clients looking for similar services. Such smooth scaling of the offered challenges keeps the competition level at each particular challenge at reasonable level, and for a new community member it means that it is not that difficult to jump into the competition and win. Despite of a large number of registrants on each challenge, because many members check all suggested work, before they decide on what they gonna work in the next few days, in the end you will likely compete against one-two submissions to the challenge you have choose.

Of course, to land at a winning position, you still need a sufficient experience to deliver a viable solution of the problem; however, the same experience you need to land at a job position in a traditional software development company! Moreover, here Topcoder offers you things no other company can offer:

  • No questions about your background and formal experience. Whenever a traditional company rejects your CV just because they believe you are not good enough, or offers you a fixed small pay for the next year, until you gain necessary experience, Topcoder encourages you to join and try your skills on real problems right away, and win the money fair to your skills;
  • No discrimination of any kind! Your location, sex, anything else have no difference! From the first day you are judged only by the quality of the output you deliver as that’s how the community gets to know you. That’s the only thing that matters for your success at Topcoder!
  • Incredibly rapid learning curve. Even when you lose a challenge, you gain a priceless experience. You can ask the copilot (the technical coordinator of the challenge), other competitors, and community members, if you stuck with something; you can see the winning submission after the challenge. If you take it seriously, after each challenge, you will presumably learn enough to perform well in the next challenge of the same kind. Also, the diversity of technologies and problems offered by Topcoder clients helps you to grow a wide experience, unlike most of job roles at conventional companies.

Most people joining Topcoder, start as part-time competitors. They have their regular job, or studies, out of curiosity they participate in one-two challenges a month, and if they lose, their impression is quite the opposite to everything said above. Sure, they spent a lot of their free time to do a real work, and they get no reward, it is not very encouraging. It looks like without their regular jobs, these people would be in trouble after such month; however, some subtle differences between being a full-time competitor vs. a part-time one are completely overlooked here:

  • When you try to fit competing at Topcoder into your regular life, then even one-two challenges a month feels like a lot. For a full-time competitor, doing eight challenges a month will be not that hard, and even more can be done if you are up to work more than regular office hours. Keep in mind that although a typical challenge is five days long, in most cases it can be done reasonably well in three days or less, if you are experienced in the underlying technologies. Sure, the opposite examples are frequent, but you don’t have to enroll into such challenges.
  • When you are doing eight challenges a month, losing half or even more of them is not a big deal! Say, for a typical code challenge the first prize is ~$1000 and the second one is ~$500. Say, you are winning just one out four challenges (25% winning rate). Most probably, it also means that in 25% of other challenges you get the second place. With eight challenges a month your average monthly income will be $2750. There are places on Earth, where this is too low for a comfortable living, but there are much more places where this is above the average wage.
  • When you are competing full-time, you have no sudden distractions from a challenge, as a part-time competitor would have, which leads to better results.

Only a bad soldier does not dream of being a general, thus career growth opportunities are very important for a responsible consideration of any job offer. Is there any room for growth at Topcoder? Sure, there is! Once the Topcoder community gets to know you as reliable and experienced member, because your performance statistics are good, and people remember you personally by your contribution to the same projects and challenges they have participated in different roles; new opportunities in the community and beyond emerge before you:

  • You can become challenge reviewer and copilot (technical coordinator of Topcoder projects), you’ll likely also start getting personal development tasks that cannot be done via the open challenges for different reasons;
  • You can target a senior software development position in a big company. The experienced gained at Topcoder, along with your track of records will surely help here;
  • And, sure, you can start your own business one day. Being successful Topcoder competitor guarantees that you has a diverse experience with various software technologies and problems; this is a great base for success of any personal endeavour.

Topcoder is a great place to learn, grow and earn enough, if one is motivated to do so. It’s easy to start: once you are registered, go to active challenges for development, design or data science and compete. If you are looking to learn, you can go to our EDU program to browse different topics or check our blog for interesting articles.


Dr. Sergey Pogodin

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