“To be or not to be, that’s the dilemma” ~ Hell no Hamlet, you couldn’t possibly be more wrong! That is so unfashioned and inaccurate, you should have used “To continue or not to continue, what do I do with this challenge?” instead.
Right, this is a tricky and sensitive topic. What can we possibly do when we are not getting a shiny checkpoint placement in a design challenge? It happens many times (unless you are Yoki) that we can’t just have a placement during a checkpoint phase. This typically leads to abandoning the challenge in most of the cases. BUT there is another option, to continue through the final phase, the less common and most controversial option.
Surprisingly, I have had the pleasure to witness on several occasions a non checkpoint winner stepping up among all the designs and taking the victory. There are some considerations to keep in mind when making this important decision. I’d like to break this down for you using designers and copilots’ points of views.
WHY NOT TO CONTINUE
Let’s start with the easiest and seemly most logic thing to do here, to abandon. Personally, I’ve done that lots of times, but why? The thought process might usually lead to the following:
- I didn’t receive a checkpoint prize/placement AND MORE IMPORTANT I didn’t receive good feedback. It was too short, not very informative compared to others, the copilot didn’t want to help me, and this discourages me.
- There are other challenges in the pipeline, I can start from scratch with another one. Maybe there will be less participants since the ones who beat me are already busy with the final phase.
- I am not motivated with the project theme nor requirements. As simple as that.
I think I’d be short with the amount of reasons and I’m sure there might be different opinions. However, there is an interesting turnaround, if you have 5 precious minutes of spare time, you might want to read what follows next.
Now let’s jump to one of my favorite parts, stats and metrics. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the total numbers on the amount of challenge where a non checkpoint winner got a placement but I could manage to invest some spare time to see all of my challenges as copilot in the last four (4) years, even though I was inactive/inconsistent during one year from 2015 to 2016, the numbers are quite promising.
- 78 completed challenges. This just means I need to move my lazy rear parts and work more :p
- 22 winners who didn’t get a checkpoint placement. There is 30% chance to win 1st place without receiving checkpoint placement.
- 45 placements from designers who didn’t get a checkpoint placement. There is 57% chance to win any placement (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc) without receiving checkpoint placement.
Now, let’s take a look to the typical deadline of a challenge, phases wise, and the amount of time you could possibly invest on each round.
Again, this is based in my personal experience, I guess other designers will have different numbers. What we can get from here?
- From registration until checkpoint submission phase I would invest something between 8 ~ 18 hours, depending on the type of competition and complexity.
- From checkpoint phase until final phase I think I wouldn’t need to invest more than 8 hours total.
Should I invest another 8h~18h in a new project, fresh start, or just use those ~8 hours to finish what I already started? What are the odds of getting a checkpoint placement this time?
Remember I recently said about abandoning “Maybe there will be less participants since the ones who beat me are already busy with the final phase”, well, now that we have done the numbers, it is very likely that this other winners will use 8 hours or less to finish and then simply join a new challenge since they will have the time. Good thought to consider.
MIND YOUR EMOTIONS
For a start, this has nothing to do with telenovelas or fortune tellers indicating what you should do. But emotions are important somehow, even if you don’t have a good start but you feel good about your ideas. Maybe you have some other approaches you didn’t try at the beginning, and if you feel good about it, it’s almost impossible that you won’t perform well. Differently than feeling sad, disappointed, I wouldn’t recommend to continue if I felt like that. As designers we need to have a stable mindset that allows to express ideas in a positive environment, emotions are important.
Something that most of the designers agree, either for this particular situation or just to win, is that feedback is a precious piece of information and must be carefully treated like a treasure – Right gollum?
A good practice if you decide to continue – ¡bravo campeón (a)! – is to read feedback very carefully, yours, your friends, or enemies depending on your social approach , and overall feedback. You can extract from there what are the client trends, what they tend to like or dislike; then if you find matching issues you know what to fix and how to approach a new design or refinement.
WHY SHOULD I CONTINUE
Similar to Jon Snow, I’m nothing and I know nothing, I’m nobody to tell you why to continue. Why don’t we allow our experienced members, who have already climbed this epic hill to tell us why?
There are some factors that made me keep working in this type of situations:
- I have personal target (money or TCO point).
- I already have a clear concept/idea for that challenge that I couldn’t complete it in R1 because lack of time
- I have nothing else to do so I want to enjoy the challenge (whether I win or not).
- Winning a challenge like this would give me double the satisfaction.
I suggest to read all the feedback and make good analysis/summary from them. The winner will be announced when the challenge ends, before it ends, everyone still can be a winner; make your own luck.
I would always give up if I didn’t get a checkpoint placement. However in a NASA challenge I stayed until the end even though I didn’t get a placement. I am a big fan of astronomy and NASA. The project was very attractive for me and the checkpoint feedback looked positive. I tried my best to upgrade my works according to the feedback, and won the challenge.
I never won a 1st prize but I’ve managed to get a placement in 3 or 4 challenges where I didn’t get any checkpoint prize. Generally I don’t continue but there are factors that could make me change my mind such as receiving a constructive feedback with enough positive criticism to keep me enthused. Also, if the submissions/participants rate is low.
I believe every challenge should be a learning experience, so If I don’t win a checkpoint prize then that is a clear signal that I have some space for improvement. In those cases I prefer to review my design than start another one from scratch. I believe that jumping from project to project without thinking through why are you failing takes more energy from you and teaches you less.
If I decide to continue through the final phase I read everything again, review every single feedback and make new questions in the forums. Then based in my own feedback, I build in my strengths and don’t try to copy blindly all that seems good in other submissions. Approach this new phase as a personal exercise and have fun.
I have skipped many challenges when I was new to Topcoder if I missed checkpoint placements, thinking that client would only be reviewing top 5 for the finals, even though the feedback was positive. But I remember, sometime back I never got checkpoint placement for 5-6 challenges at a stretch, that’s when I’ve decided to give it a try for couple challenges which got positive feedback and I got a second placement in one of those. So I think it mostly depends on how seriously you take the feedback (General & Individual) irrespective of whether you got the checkpoint placement or not, especially when the number of submissions is huge. Because I think, sometimes it’s quite hard for the client to pick top 5 too. So the major reason for me to continue to work for the finals even though I never got checkpoint is the kind of feedback I get after the 1st round. If the feedback motivates me, I’d continue to work for the finals.
As an advice, I would say, take the general feedback and also your individual feedback seriously and ask questions on forum no matter how silly it may sound to you. Never design even with a slightest doubt you have regarding the challenge spec.
PS – REAL TIMELINE FOR TOPCODER DESIGNERS
That’s Yoki’s secret formula to his undeniable success. Do you have a different label/description for each phase? Go ahead and speak it out in Slack. See you soon fellas, peace out!
Topcoder Copilot and TCO Ultimate Junkie
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