Topcoder Nation show AMA (Ask Me Anything), hosted by Lluis Millan aka mahestro, featured Dr. Sergey Pogodin aka birdofpreyru as the episode guest.
June 26, 2021
M - Welcome everyone, good morning, good afternoon, good evening. From wherever you are visiting us today, thank you for joining us. Today we are hosting the sixth episode of Topcoder Nation show, and as always this is a space here for us to get to know our community members, to get to know their journeys, how they came here, and possibly to learn something out of these spectacular journeys. Super excited as always with our guest, today we have Dr. Sergey Pogodin, his handle is birdofpreyru. He is a fantastic character in the community, super intelligent person he has been multiple times at TCOs, he has won the TCO development competition twice, not just once, so just keep that in mind. He is I don't know what else: co-pilot, software copilot, data science copilot, data science competitor, and especially something what we share together is our passions for traveling. Yeah, super honor to have him today here with us. He is actually bases in Spain right now. As always this is a AMA format - ask me anything, and I've been collecting questions through the week for him, for you guys to ask him. In the first 20-30 minutes of this interview i want to ask him some questions so that you get to know him, to get to know his journey, and then after that I'm going to read the questions that I collected, but if you didn't have time to add those there's a button below in Zoom, it is Q&A and you can write down your questions in there and we'll go through those, and he'll happily give you give you an answer for those. So it's been a long time Sergey, how is it going man?
B - Kind of... like everywhere, I guess the life is strange these days. But yeah... thank you for kind words and introducing me, and I am glad to be on your legendary show!
M - No, the honor is not just mine, it's ours, the people who want to get to know about your journey. If I can get started with something that I know because you told me, is that the fact that you grew up in Russia and then you you moved to Spain and that's quite interesting, quite a citizenship shift in my opinion, and just curious to get started right off that path, how was this change, why did you move to spain, how was it?
B - It was great, I really enjoyed it. Originally i just moved to continue my studies here, to do my doctorate study in Spain, and I was not particularly focused to move specifically to Spain, I just looked for opportunities everywhere, it just happened to be that I was invited to do my doctoral study in Spain, and never regretted it.
M - So you moved basically to pursue studies in there. Right, what type of type of studies did you perceive?
B - I became Doctor in Chemical Engineering.
M - Doctor in Chemical Engineering... That is interesting... and then you jumped to Topcoder. I don't know how to start to decompose this...
B - Many people wonder what is the connection. So, in my doctorate, and in my previous studies I was always working in theoretical field, and all scientific theory nowadays include a lot of programming, so it's not that I did such a really huge switch, it was something a way more natural.
M - But you didn't receive any formal education in software development per se, so it was something that you learned?
B - Yes, figured it out myself on the way.
M - Oh man, this is one of the reasons why when I talk about you the first words that come into my mind, is intelligent, and this capacity of learning that you have.
B - To be fair, what I was educated on was a very good maths background, and some knowledge of useful algorithms for science. What I was not trained, and had to learn myself, were the good development practices, how to write a the clean code, how to really manage the code that you can be efficient programmer.
M - Right, so that was something that you that endeavor yourself. How was your discovery of Topcoder? Was it when you moved to Spain, or after you finished your PhD there? When did Topcoder enter your life?
B - After I did my doctorate study I worked for several years in academical chemistry research, and I was thinking that I wanted to move to a professional software development just because I thought it kind of will bring me more money. I didn't know much about that so I thought "Oh, Google", I should get the job at Google because I heard these guys are quite famous and they pay good. The first time I tried to get the job offer from Google, with the materials they sent you to prepare they mentioned there is this Topcoder thing which you should check out to prepare, because... They usually promote the algorithmic part of Topcoder, you know SRMs, and all the materials related to SRMs. That was how I first learned about Topcoder. Apparently I never got a job offer from Google, so after I sat down after the failed interview and said "okay what's next, maybe i should pay a bit more attention to that Topcoder, I learned about learned during the preparation?".
M - That's crazy, so yeah during this Google interview... I have also heard that they have a a reference to Topcoder in the Google interviews assets to asses assess how good you are in algorithms. That's quite interesting.
B - They mention the algorithm stuff, they never mentioned that actually maybe with Topcoder you can just start competing, and working, and forget about Google.
M - Yeah, just the algorithm that's it. So, you came by curiosity, you entered Topcoder, and what was the first track you tried, was it actually SRM, as Google suggested, or you went just for development?
B - No actually I never used Topcoder to prepare for Google interviews, maybe that's why I didn't get the job. My first try was a data science competition about DNA sequencing, it was kind of close to what I usually did for work in science. I competed in that one, never won anything, and then I turned my eyes to developing track, and got quite more success there.
M - If i can make a parallel reference here, you know I was watching the documentary about one month ago, because it was the year anniversary of the Topcoder documentary where you are featured in as one of the of the people being interviewed, and by chance... you now mentioned this DNA competition, and you were at a museum I think in Valencia, and if I recall correctly and you were talking about a DNA sequence... Was it the same thing that you mentioned right now, the the same challenge?
B - Yeah, I think I was talking about that stuff in the documentary as well.
M - Oh, yeah that makes sense. Now, if you guys haven't watched it, there's this documentary by Topcoder, I'm going to share the link in the summary of this interview. There is a documentary where there's PereViki, thomaskranitsas, and Sergey, and I forgot who else... A very-very moving, touching documentary, and exciting about several different lifestyles of Topcoder members around the world, and yeah Sergey is in there.
B - You know, thinking now about when we filmed it, I mean man if back then we knew that the next year gonna be the COVID pandemic and everything, we could do the documentary much more dramatic. You know... the world as we know it is about to end, and these guys are competing to get to the last normal TCO, you know?
M - Yeah, that would make it Oscar-worth material, I think that would make it much stronger the message.
Something that i would like to touch is this topic that we share in common. You know now that you mentioned pandemic and travel, and a good opportunity to meet and travel again. About your specific lifestyle, because as I see your Instagram account, by the way if you guys haven't checked check that, Sergey is always traveling, and he is postingpictures to birdofpreyru Instagram, if you want to check it out. Yeah, he is always traveling, and I just wanted to ask how do you manage to do that, even during the pandemic?
B - The secret is, what you see in my Instagram is maybe five to ten percent of my life, and the rest ninety percent is a hard work, programming... and it is honestly quite boring, so I rarely mention it in social media. You know that's the problem of the 21st century they say, you go to Facebook, you look how is the life of your friends... they only post the good stuff, so they travel, they have relations, they have you know... all amazing stuff happening, so you think "I live a very boring life while everybody else is enjoying their". The problem is that people only post interesting stuff, and you don't see what is the rest of their lives like.
M - You know I once read a quote or something that said that social media are just a mirror of our little success, but we tend to hide our major failures.
B - I guess in that sense my Instagram is definitely a show of my life as I dream for all my life to be, you know just traveling, enjoying my time... still not yet there. You know, I cannot afford myself to do it all the time.
M - Yeah, well that's the dream. Assuming, make a parenthesis here, let's say before pandemic, I guess that you used to travel more, and you could do this more often than now, and so the question is how does Topcoder fit into this lifestyle that you like, like traveling?
B - For me it fitted not that good. Honestly, to be efficient at competing, working and traveling at the same time is very-very difficult. You know, mostly travels I want to do I plant them ahead again, I wrap every competition every work before, then I travel, and then i come back home and I start working again. On some projects it was possible also to work on the way but it's usually only possible when you already work long time on the project, you know the people, you know the problem, and you're more in a maintenance mode than really competing, and putting too much stress on yourself.
M - So let's say that typically you would split, let's say if you're going to travel you just go to travel, but you don't work at all, and if you're you come back is when you're actually focusing on work.
B - Well, it depends. Consider this, many of my travels were to go snowboarding so you go snowboarding, you maybe spend from morning till afternoon you are just snowboarding, and you come back home, you're pretty tired so even just to sit, and work it's already like... you should make you yourself to do it. Then you don't have much time, because there's some other interesting stuff going on in living, you wanna go to walk around, you know... have a dinner, everything, so you just don't have time to compete.
M - Yeah, and something I have to mention about snowboarding it's not just fun, if you're doing for the first time, as I am a first timer myself, you're gonna get a lot of you know bumps and fallings, and that is super fun once you get through that phase of learning
B - Yeah and that's very simple thing, you just learn how to do the s-shape curve and then you just spend few more years practicing that.
M - Yeah, yeah something that really was difficult for me, was to how to call this in English, is to stand against the mountain when you're falling down, but you're flipping you're watching at the mountain, and over the tip of your fingers and your feet that gets your calves really tired as a newbie. Be careful about that people who wants to learn. Yeah, I'm amazed you make me to miss snowboarding so much, and that was also by the way the last time we could travel.
Well, again assuming you know pre-pandemic times, how did you choose your destinations for traveling? Did you have any specific you know like agenda, like I want to go this place, that place, or you just like threw a dart onto the map, and said this where I'm going?
B - Most of the places just came up because I discussed something with somebody in Internet, or somebody messaged me something. and I was like "Oh I should visit this guy, that friend", so I rarely usually sit and think where I go, it usually just appears this idea that I should go there at that time.
M - Yeah, you know there's something I have to confess here, when I talk to people and I describe, people ask like this type of process, how do you choose your destination, and then you say like it's random thoughts, friends recommendations, suggestions. And people say hey, why do you do this?
B - It also depends on how much time your are already traveling. When i just moved to Spain I definitely had a list that I should go to Paris, to Rome, and all these "on top of every list" destinations to visit. But at the moment of my life I already feel I kind of visited these obligatory destinations, and now I'm more relaxed about it, and i just roll whenever it carries me.
M - That'ss amazing, just flow with the water. Normally people... it's hard to grasp like you can like spontaneously just go wherever it feels... I guess it's something more guided by feeling than by deep thought reasoning or stuff, and I agree with that. And I remember the time we were talking in the backstage of that meeting, where we went to Argentina 2019 with Harshit, and I guess that also takes a part in the process, like right there is this opportunity to go to Argentina as a Topcoder member, I think you were MVP, on MVP trip, and then you overstayed and you know get to meet up, hang out more.
B - Alright, that is a perfect trip when some entity for some reason pay you the trip to get there, and then you spend more time there on your own, paying for yourself, but usually the most expensive part is the tickets to fly there and back, and the rest is cheap. Especially if you go like to Argentina from Europe. I mean, inside Europe tickets for air traffic are really cheap so going to different European countries is not a big deal.
M - Yeah, that's the fascinating fascinating thing about traveling in Europe, you take a train or a bus and in just 50 minutes one hour, or even unless, you are in another country, another history.
B - You know, you go to Topcoder event, you talk to american-based members of the community, and... you visited a lot of countries if you live in Europe, and they visited much less, just because USA is so huge, and there's actually not much countries around, compared to Europe, where you know you drive one day, you have like 10 countries around you can arrive to.
M - Yeah that's definitely accurate. I have a few friends who live in in the states right now, and one of the things they tell me that they don't feel like they should leave the country because that's so huge that they also have a like rich things to explore, and they say that it is actually undervalued the US as a traveling area, just because it's just one country but it's incredible...
B - Well in USA case the equivalent is actually states, so if you travel to different states of America it's the same like in Europe you go to different countries.
M - Yeah, for instance Louisiana. You go there you have such a rich mixture of French and African, mixed and with American, and if you go up north you have the whole world in New York there in one single city, and you go down to the south you got this you know Southern Texas and such a different things that it could make it feel like if you're traveling in different countries. That is what most of my friends tell me about US.
Something that is also related to travel is TCOs, as some of you know TCO is the Topcoder Open event, where we.., normally do it annually, we meet together, and have competitions there, and that's where I actually met Sergey, it was 2016. If i recall correctly he was there just as a visitor, I think you were not competing there, right?
B - Oh, no, no, it was just a few months after I joined Topcoder, it was a big surprise I actually won a trip.
M - I remember you were not competing, but i saw you there.
B - I won that trip like in some bonus series, so it was already after the main competition was over. There was like a series of challenges, and whoever made most of them got the trip. I remember it was actually me and billsedison, we were toe-to-toe and in the end I think I won over him.
M - Oh, so he did not come to that TCO?
B - Yeah, but it was so close, I mean it was very close to that he goes instead of me, if I remember correctly it was like the very last challenge to leave me first.
M - Wow you two guys are so strong I guess that must have been a tough competition there for you.
B - Yeah, it is a bit pity, at Topcoder you kind of compete and you know against people you really think they're amazing, you don't really wanna winning over them, because you really think they also deserve it.
M - And how was this first experience even though you were not like a seasoned member, you were just beginning, but how was the TCO experience being in there for the first time? How did you see that?
B - That was different, kind of you don't know anybody, you see everybody for the first time. So, I am in such situations always very shy, just look around at the people, and trying to figure out who is who, and remember the names, faces. And you should consider there's actually a lot of people, there's a lot of Topcoder staff, a lot of members invited, so you just kind of lost in the crowd.
That was very different when the next time i arrived to Topcoder Open, the next year it was already... you know the people... and a way different experience.
M - Yeah, that was the very next year TCO17, it was in Buffalo, and you won it, that was the first TCO you won, right?
B - Yeah.
M - Well, I think Harshit sayd that every TCO that you competed at, you won it, because other times you were being like trip winner, or anything, of course obviously you didn't compete, but those ones you did, you won, and that's quite an achievement. If you can see this from my point of view it is like someone who didn't receive a formal software engineering education, there are many people like us who come here, who receive an education in formal software engineering, and there comes in someone with chemistry background, no formal education in software engineering, and you taught yourself through this development process, and then you come here for the first time and you win it, you lift the golden shiny trophy, TCO brackets. To me that that's quite amazing, but I don't know, how do you see it?
B - By 2017 I already was at Topcoder one year and something, and at Topcoder when you actively competing full-time, I would say one year accounts for maybe five years of normal experience. So, I got quite a lot of experience by that point.
M - Yeah, and what do you think about working in a regular job, if you have done that, compared to competitions. What do you think are the caveats, pros and cons?
B - Yeah... I worked at the regular job, but it was in academia, like in scientific research. So the environment, and the that stuff is working is also different from normal business enterprise. It is more laid back i mean. Apparently it's good that you kind of free with your schedule when you work for Topcoder, I personally hate to wake up early and start working... so, these days i usually start working at noon, that I think i wouldn't afford myself to do that at a regular job... well, but these days everybody is working through Internet, so it's not much different now.
M - Yeah, who would have thought, right? Like there comes a a bunch of people who create computers, a bunch of people who get together to push Internet, and then a few years later bang... everyone is plugged to a computer, working from the comfort of their couches, and libraries, and coffee places.
While we're talking about that you like to you don't like to wake up early, and by the way I like to say this for everyone, please don't stigmatise people who don't wake up early, there are actually biological proof, circadian rhythms in our bodies that you know some form of, some of us are kind of born for you know we like working up early, and some others just can't do that actually, they have a really hard time if they force themselves to wake up very early.
B - I'm not sure i agree with you. In my case there are two things promote me to wake up late and go to bed late: the first is Topcoder, because I am in Europe, Topcoder is in America, so a lot of stuff is shifted closer to my evening time, giving me motivation to better to be work a bit in the evening, than work early in the morning when nobody is awake in America. And the second thing is the Spanish lifestyle... so in Spain if you go out to some fiesta, party, it's all very late, you go to dinner, it's very late, you go to some club for dancing, whatever, it's well after the midnight. Its just the life motivates you to go to bed very late, and then wake up late.
M - Oh, yeah, and talking about this, lifestyles and the cities, and assuming... we know that when you have the opportunity you will travel, but assuming that you are in a place let's say for work, and then how would would a typical day of Dr. Sergey looks like? We know that you don't wake up early, we know that, so what's next?
B - Well, I usually have breakfast, take a shower, check my email, then depending on if I have work or something else I start working, if I don't have anything to do I probably just go somewhere, I can go to swim, go to travel somewhere, because usually before my three o'clock in the afternoon I don't get anything new on my table. Then I check my email again, later have my lunch, and decide what I do in the evening. If I have some plans I do something, sometimes I just stay and work.
M - Okay, from my distant point of view it sounds quite relaxed, like you don't give yourself too much trouble, for like organizing your morning, your day.
B - Well, it depends on the day. It's wrong to call just relax, sometimes I just work from early morning to very late, just because i have work to do, sometimes I'm not actually involved with any challenge or project, so I have nothing to do.
M - Yeah, I get it. Then, what about hobbies, I mean beside working what do you do when you're not working?
B - We already touched on travels, I already touched that I like snowboarding, which I haven't done for two years. Lately I was doing windsurfing, but I kind of haven't done much for the last year, so now I think I'm trying to look for a new hobby. I got myself a car last year, so I think my hobby now is just driving around and looking at some natural nice places, you know nice to be, and where nobody cares whether you're wearing a mask or not.
M - Yeah that's quite important, and good to know that now you have a driving license, and a car, and maybe we can do a road trip together in Spain. Oh, please, I hope that they allow us traveling very soon. And you mentioned windsurf, I started doing something similar, I think I told you it's kitesurf... Where do you practice it? There in Valencia do they have enough wind, do they have good conditions for that, or do you have to travel to practice withsurf?
B - I was practicing in Valencia, the conditions there were so-so. You can learn the basics, and get pretty good, but then after some level you don't progress anymore, that's exactly the point where I stopped going to the school. Because you're paying money, but you feel you really not progressing, and anyway the environment is not that good to progress further, the wind is not that strong.
M - Yeah, sometimes you need maybe a little bit more challenging...
B - Now I live just on a beach, but on this beach nobody windsurfs just because I think it's more for tourists, and for swimming, so it's not allowed to navigate on windsurf.
M - Well, I hope that you can get more opportunities to keep improving that. I am going to switch over to the questions, so let me see if you can see my screen in a second... I'm gonna tell you... Okay, you should see something that says AMA, can you see it?
B - Agh, no I still see your pretty face...
M - Ha-ha, what the heck?
B - Oh, now I see the presentation.
M - Cool. The questions are here, so guys unfortunately for me I cannot keep asking this gentleman question from my own, so i'm going to ask him questions that I collected through the form here, but remember that after these are done, there's a button here below that says Q&A, you can type write down your questions for him, and then we'll go through those as well after these.
The first question that we have for you my friends today is... oh, I have to mention, I forgot to edit the questions... so how are you able to maintain work and travel, especially during COVID-19 19 times.
B - The work was easy, I just kept doing what I was doing. The travel I'm not sure I maintained that. We were locked down for three months, three months the only allowed reason for me to exit my house was to go to shopping to the supermarket nearby. Later... so, that motivated me to get a car and I'm traveling like one hour driving distance from the place I am living at... Actually, that's funny because normally you think about a travel, you always go somewhere far... but when you kind of confined to a small environment you start looking specifically what is interesting to visit within a short drive from your place, and I'm surprised how many beautiful things are all around if you drive for one hour, and I never heard about them... I live in the area for five years, never heard about most of these places, and they're amazing.
M - Yeah that's fascinating what you mentioned, how we tend to have that thought that a travel is very far away like to another country, but maybe just the park next to you could be a nice traveling experience. But by definition you don't need to cross countries to say that we travel, and that's fascinating. Especially, if we can mention country travel, I don't know how are regulations in Spain at this moment, but are you allowed to maybe visit another country?
B - I don't know, sometime ago I got bored watching the news and following up, because they change the rules every week, so you have to spend all your time watching. Up to some moment ago it was weird, I tell you, in March I was able to travel to visit my parents back in Russia and come back here to Spain, but at that very same time I was not allowed to go to another region of Spain. Nowadays I know that I can travel around Spain, but to other European countries... I probably can go, but there are some rules to follow, which makes it difficult
M - Before I move to the next topic, the next question, I just wanted to throw a little advice or experience for the viewers. It is on the same line of reasoning. As Sergey mentioned, you don't know what you have around, ifyou just go out, and you see, you can find interesting things. But if you live sometimes like me, because here regulations are super strict, sometimes you can't even go to the next county or city, it's a very very uh very hard confinement, and even in this scenarios, when I feel kind of frustrated, I resorted to literature, and surprisingly it can be a sort of traveling, maybe boring traveling for some people, I know, but when you don't have any resource to go anywhere for instance, if you read novels about other places and countries, at least for me, I feel like I am being transported somehow. If you have imagination for instance there is this nice novel called The Piano Tuner, it makes you travel to these places, from Myanmar to London. Withjust a little bit of imagination, it feels like a soft of palliative remedy for not being able to travel, if you have a very very rigid confinement...
B - Or maybe you just imagine your travel and write a book about it. Do you know the very famous book Treasure Island was written like that, the guy never traveled I think outside of Great Britain, but he really read books, imagined about travels, and wrote this famous story about somebody going by the ship to some island to fight pirates and find a treasure.
M - Wow! What is it called?
B - Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
M - Wow, I didn't know that, I would look it up and I would definitely read it, that's super interesting. Well there you have it, more resources.
The next question is, what do you prefer between co-piloting and competiting in challenges?
B - That's a good one. From where I stand now I don't really know, each of these positions has some pluses, and minuses. Apprently co-pilot is more stable... challenges are very volatile, and you have to be stressed all the time, but then when you copilot you kind of have more control over what you're doing, and in a challenge you are working within the boundaries you were given by the client's co-pilot.
M - Yeah... if i may add something... challenges... they both have pluses and minuses, but I would say that challenges are definitely more rewarding if we talk about finances, although I think it conveys more that you should have a very strong skill set, and you know just the abilities to win challenges constantly, right? Because maybe if you're like beginner and learning, and not winning many challenges, somethingthat didn't happen to you a lot I guess, it can be tough, I mean the competition environment. Alright, how was it for you when you started, I don't know did you start winning right away, or did you have had to go through a kind of process?
B - Well, I started winning pretty fast, but yeah... there is aspect of that, to be in a good position to make your living with challenges, you usually have to have a very broad technical knowledge, because challenges are very different, and to win a lot you should be able to win what is on now. When you copilote something you have better chances to focus on some specific problem, specific technology stack for a longer time, so it's easy in that sense.
M - Yeah, definitely.
M - So yes, it was like a kind of dual process, first learning Node.JS, and the technologies around it, while at the same time learning the competition process, which is not very difficult: reviewing submissions, the scoring process, and the appeals phase. How long did it take you to go through learning it from scratch, because you basically learned Node.JS from scratch, until the moment when you started winning challenges. do you know how long did it take you?
B - Maybe a year, but let's say a year or two. I had to be very strategic in the selection of challenges which I was going to do, as apparently my experience was not enough to win everything. When I was looking at a new challenge I was thinking "okay, that one I know pretty much everything, so I can do it, and probably I can win", but then I was selecting a lot of challenges which i said "okay, this challenge I apparently don't know a lot of stuff, I'm probably gonna lose it, but I believe that it's a good chance to actually learn that stuff, and it can be beneficial for me in future because the next challenge like that I gonna win, and I see that there's a lot of similar challenges Topcoder now". So I said I should definitely learn this, so I was taking such challenges and then after two years I reached the point that I knew pretty a lot, so if I really want to compete iIalways can pick up some challenge where actually pretty sure I can do it.
M - Yeah, that's very wise the strategy, that you used to select challenges as either for learning and also the opportunity for winning cash... and for this selection process, and sorry to extend to these questions, but it's very interesting, do you consider, I know that some people do, some others they don't, but when you're selecting a challenge did you consider or did you get to any time consider whowho are your opponents in the challenge? You know so for some people they say, if Sergey is competing here i wouldn't join.
B - I actually tried to enroll in the challenges which just started, when you don't really know who are gonna be your opponents, because joining a challenge somewhere in the middle it's difficult.
M - Yea, besides that you have less time...
B - You don't have maybe enough time, and usually something goes wrong, either there are some hidden issues in the challenge which you have to resolve and it takes you more time than you anticipated, or something happens in your life that one day, maybe the next day you are not available to do the work, so it's always safer to choose when you just at the beginning of the challenge, and you have more room to maneuver yourself around the work.
M - And how about how about the quantity of challenges that you can take? Do you mind let's say if you join two challenges that you know you have two weeks to complete them, do you go through them by sequence or do you mix them up, or you choose just to complete one challenge at a time?
B - Yeah, definitely one challenge in a time, or don't start a new challenge until you finish the previous one, or you decide that you don't wanna finish the previous one. I usually do one, maybe then immediately pick up the next one. The only way I work on two at the same time competing is when I already started a new one, but people doubt that you should correct something in the previous one, usually because somebody has asked something in the challenge forum, which requires small adjustment in what I submitted already.
M - Yeah, that makes sense. It's such a quality advice here, I know that people who are competing at development, or any other track, actually they can benefit from that.
B - I think that when you invest your time, and working on the challenge, you know the line is like this... if this is a time, and this is the quality of your solution, so it goes like this (showing with hands). Maybe in one day you reach like 80% quality, one more day it's only goes by plus 10%, another day plus 10% more. I would advise not to focus on making a challenge like 100% percent, you do it to a reasonable quality, and you move the next challenge because even if you do everything perfect the chances are you're still gonna lose it, so better not to lose too much time on reaching the absolute perfection.
M - That's a great advice in time management and optimization. Okay let's move to the next question, because I'm sure that we could stand talking about challenges the whole interview. Let's answer the questions from other folks. Okay, next one, why do you always wear a cowboy hat in the TCO photos?
B - Ah, that's a good one! So, when i just registered at Topcoder, I thought "yeah, in this community everything is virtual, and everything is fragmented, you know, separate challenges". I saw a problem with that: how will people remember me, because I wanted to invest myself in this thing seriously, and I wanted people to remember about me, and so that they really connect me between the challenges, and they actually remember "that guy, I already worked with him, and I have a good impression of him", and you know I think there are some additional benefits that people know that everything you do you fulfill, you deliver on your promise, or at least you try as hard as you can, so that's a good thing, right? So I thought okay, i should have some nickname which you can read, not just a mixture of numbers and letters you cannot read and remember, and I should have the avatar which everybody remembers, and if I put myself my photo nobody is going to remember it, but I haven't seen anybody around with a cowboy hat on their avatar, so I said I should pick it up, as everybody will remember the hat.
M - Yeah, that is difficult to forget.
B - So there should be some object in your avatar, I believe, in such community, which easy to remember, and nobody else have it. It can be anything, it can be your pet, your dog...
M - Yeah, it can a parrot on your the shoulder...
B - Oh, that's a good one, the parrot on the shoulder! That's a great idea, somebody should have it.
M - Yeah, yeah, there you have it guys, for the new newbies, if you don't have an avatar picture, consider putting a parrot over your shoulder, that's a good one.
To be honest, I also had this question in my mind because I think when i met you in 2016, we shared a bus trip from Washington to New York, and you were wearing your hat when we got out of the bus to say bye and that we'll stay in touch... and you had your hat on, I said "Oh my God, this guy has something".
B - Well, that was TCO. Just because apparently I knew that people remember me from the Internet by the hat, how would they recognize me in person when they come to Topcoder Open? I had to come with the hat.
M - That's a great one. Okay, we have another one. You beat Sky_ in TCO final, was it hard? He is very good!
B - Yes, I guess pretty hard. I never checked what he did, so it should be asked from the people who actually reviewed. He apparently won much Topcoder Open events than I did, and you actually should have him on this show also. I think he did win five Topcoder Opens?
M - I think to give a little bit of more context, I don't think he is active anymore, but he won the TCO development competition several times more that three or four in the finals. And then I think the only time you guys faced each other it was your first TCO, and you won, that's why i think this person asks how hard was it to beat him.
B - Coming back to the one of your previous questions, he's definitely a member I was avoiding to compete against. If I came to a challenge and I saw Sky_ working on it, when he was competing a lot, okay I passed that one, because I didn't want to spend my time fighting against this guy, I just went to another challenge.
M - Yeah, with this guy just go to another one, he's unbelievably good too, it's like any challenge you see him in he's winning, that's I guess this is why the question.
B - If you want a brief anecdote, there is a lot of movies about cowboy fights, where two guys enter the street and they have a shout out, and one going to die. It rarely happened in the real life, because in the real life all these good shooters of Wild West they pretty much knew about each other, and they said "This makes no sense, because one of us gonna be dead afterwards, you know it's 50/50 gonna be me", so they actually were polite to each other and tried to avoid it.
M - Yeah, no one wants to die, that is a good one. Okay, we have another one, and I by this question I suspect... this one is anonymous, but I suspect this came from Jessie, she always writes down this question for everyone who comes here. What is your favorite TCO moment?
B - Of course that is when you have some prize your hand, and you can lift it up. That's definitely the best one!
M - Yeah, the one that you got to do live, not like...
B - Yeah, definitely it is much more fun to do it in front of people.
M - Well, at least... I appreciate that you share these videos of unboxing... You did the unboxing video of the TCO brackets champion trophy... I guess that must feel better to do it live on stage with your friends and people sitting there, to celebrate it appropriately.
I think we have another one, I think the last one: how do you win TCO final?
B - I don't know, you just give hundred percent of the efforts to do the best you can, then you sit and wait for the result. But to be honest, in 2017 it was like... a bit in hackathon style, so they told us the idea of the challenge one day before, we didn't know the very specifics, we didn't got the data, but basically instead of going to see the Niagara Falls, I spent one day thinking and planning, what I should do with this input I already knew, to do something impressive... and the last one, which was online, it was pretty much a surprise...
M - You were second place right before the testing?
B - Yeah.
M - And then you became champion live when they were scoring down the testing, that was that was exciting.
B - Yeah, I don't know the details, what happened there, but I think somewhat when it was 30 minutes left I thought "okay, functional requirements... I'm probably not going to solve anything else, because among the stuff which was tested automatically, I did everything I could do, so probably not going to solve anything more than that in 30 minutes", so I spent the last 30 minutes in cleaning up the code, writing the comments, and you know that stuff which actually give you the points of the scorecard, but not counted by the automatic testing. That what I think what decided the result.
M - Yeah, that sounds like a wise decision, that you didn't have enough time to complete another one, so you focused on the quality of the existing problems that you already solved. It was exciting seeing you there, and again to give more context in the the previous TCO competition development... they have been introducing the automated testing to the challenges, so when the developers finished the participation they didn't know who won, they had an estimated score, who was first, second, third, and by then Sergey was second, because of his score. So we had to wait till the final day for the ceremony, and we watched live how the testing was done, and how the scores were changing, and then the last minute all his problems tested successfully, and he became the first the first placement, and that's how he became a champion.
Something I want to add to this question, I they asked his question to Peter, to PereViki, it is a little bit difficult to reply, because when people see someone winning the brackets at the TCO final, we normally see just this moment, when the person is lifting the brackets, but we don't account for the efforts and the number of variables, of the things that have to happen for this person to be there, at the first place, like qualification rounds, also even previousl... that's his education, and the opportunities that this person received in life... I mean it's not just the moment to go there and compete, and have a little bit of luck or whatever, it is all of these things, because we only see the tip of the iceberg, but all of the things that go behind, in the background, it makes this process such a random thing... this is why I see this question very difficult.
B - I should also mention that... this is actually metaphysical about the life, and everything, not only Topcoder Open. There's a lot of people who did pretty much the same, but they never won. It is a a bit of luck also.
M - Yeah, a little bit of randomness, and it's difficult to predict. Even there's someone who is super good, has these abilities of solving problems, it can happen something, even like a the person caught a cold, he wasn't thinking straight, and during the competition day he just couldn't perform well, and someone else won them. There's a lot of randomness involved in this question.
Okay, this is the end of the live chat questions, let me stop sharing my screen Now I'm gonna check the chat to see if some of you guys have... yeah we have questions for you here. Okay that was I think Harshit, there's a question: did participation in RDM, Rapid Development Matches before the finals helped you?
B: - Oh yeah, that's a good one... Yes, I did participate before the final, I participated exactly for that reason that we were already told that it's going to be the same format like the final, that definitely helped.
M - That was kind of like a warm-up for what was coming in the finals, right? So, if you guys don't know, the RDMs have a similar format to SRMs, in the sense of... you have a set of problems with different difficulties, easy, medium, and hard, and you have to solve them in a given timeframe, and you have a scoring process, a testing phase, and the winners get prize money... and we are constantly running them in the platform, so if you see those around, you can see the benefit of learning how development works, and also learning skills, and also earning cash... but also preparing you for maybe participating in live tournament and challenges like... so, good opportunity...
We have another one, anonymous, it says: how many hours do you work per day.
B - Oh it's really hard to say... sometimes I would say 10 hours, sometimes zero.
M - Yeah, I think that's something that you have to measure on average, like something per month...
B - Yeah, it should be average per month, because if you in the challenge you maybe work some really unhealthy number of hours for a few days in a row, but then you say "okay, after that I need a few days off, so you just relax a few days doing stuff".
M - Yeah, I get that too, and this is something I appreciate about living of the gig work style of life, that some days you work for two weeks like crazy, like you beat your rear parts down, and working for two weeks eight hours per day, but then you have three weeks off like you can do whatever you want for one week off, and then you come back and then you just have work for three days, and then you rest four days and it's like this...
B - Yeah, you just think about you, your side, what do you really need now, and what you do. So, if you now need more money, and you want to spend more time on that, you do more, if you just need to relax you will... maybe you don't that need money, but doing more work now... this project brings you more opportunities in the future, you believe that you, you work...
And on the regular job it is mostly your boss telling you what to do.
M - Yeah, it's kind of working on demand, according to your needs, or on specific goals of any specific time...
B - Yeah, you know it's like... you are definitely self-employed I would say for gig work, so you decide for yourself, what is good for you, like an enterprise...
M - Yeah, now that you mentioned that, you made me remember something that I learned from Tony, I guess you also know him. Tony Jefts, he has many titles in the platform, but he's he runs the product, basically Topcoder as a platform, and he told me once, I think it was 2013 in a TCO, it's only like you guys... because I don't, we were talking in there, and you know drinking a few beers, and I told him... we were talking about insurance, and taking responsibility yourself, as an individual competitor, because of the lifestyle that we had... and he told me like "you guys are an enterprise, you have to see yourself as a living organism like... who is an enterprise" that you don't rely on someone else paying your taxes, or doing you your insurance, work... this is your responsibility, something that you should be concerned about, because you are an individual worker. And now you said enterprise, and make me think about it.
B - He didn't tell it to me, but 100% agree to that, that's definitely true. In Spain we have a lot of this discussion about gig workers, whether they're really self-employed or not, because they don't have the social security, whatever... but it's always overlooked that if you are a gig worker, you are self-employed, this is your own responsibility to pay taxes, pay contribution, whatever... and usually people get problems where they didn't follow the legal ways, they kind of worked illegally like self-employed, they don't have any social security benefits, then got into trouble, and they're in a trouble...
M - So, that's something to consider, like take your responsibility for...
B - It is your own obligation to put a safety net around yourself.
M - Yeah, that's self-awareness of being you know... to manage yourself, your income, your expenses, your savings, your insurance, your health, your anything, just being careful about...
B - If you are in a situation that if you don't win this challenge, you don't have anything to pay for your food next week, you're doing something wrong, definitely.
M - Yeah, I totally agree with that. One should be careful about it. I think maybe it comes from extending a little bit... comes from just industrialization era, that we live you know... that when the industry came in and the industrial age revolution, and the state and the market started to provide all of these things, like security, health, employment, education, so we maybe forgot how to administrate ourselves, as we used to do before this.
B - Of course, because if you work in regular employment you have the accounting department doing the accounting for you, you have the PR department doing the PR for you, and you don't care about it regularly... If you are self-employed, you are gig worker, you have to do it yourself. or actively search somebody who you pay, that he does it for you.
M - Yeah, totally agree. Oh, wait, we have one more question, from Penty, hey Penty, bless you, you made it here today too. Are you still involved with academia?
B - Well, not much.
M - Not much. I remember, to wrap it up, I remember seeing the documentary again, you were talking about funding your own lab for research, or something... I guess that should be difficult to achieve... but, what did you mean by that, I guess it was related to academia as well?
B - Yeah, well it's pretty much difficult. I don't know how it's called correctly in English, but the way to go up the ideal career ladder in academia it's very difficult. There's a lot of positions for students, a lot of positions for PhDs, then the next level there are very few positions, and then if you go higher, where you have the own laboratory, you actually have independent research project, that's very few people arrive there, very few positions.
M - Oh, wow...
B - I think it's like, you know... I still don't remember the word, but the same they say about flying to space. There's a lot of people who train to be an astronaut, but very few of them actually get the chance to fly there, not to say to fly multiple times. So that's similar in academia... not so bad, but...
M - Yeah, let's say a lot of supply, but like the demand is very low, I mean the opportunities, the positions are taken. A viewer adding something, oh... it's a compiment, I think: "I saw some science papers on your webpage", that's why he asked.
Yeah, I think this is something to dig deeper...
B - Well, in my viewpoint it is completely broken, because it's the system, it works... it is kind of you work on the project, you don't have flexibility, so you get the money for some long-term project, and you spend time, and event if at some point you see it is not really going to work, you're still kind of obliged to use that money, and still keep on trying... you know in a business environment, or gig work, you do a challenge, or some work for maybe weeks, maybe months, and some moment you say "okay, this has no perspective", and you just switches to another project... which is something you cannot do the same in academia.
M - Yeah, very different.
B - Agile! Agility, there is a lack of agility. You know, in modern development it is all about to be agile... that's my problem with academia.
M - Yeah, agile, feedback. Something that I find interesting about academia is, at least here in my little world of ignorance, it's just the research process... I'm all in for research, and this is what I find interesting, the way they use processes formal processes to catalog and perform research, and... in any different areas, because they have done a lot of work in that... but, yeah, maybe in the future, who knows Sergey, as we mentioned earlier randomness acts in very different, strange manner, so maybe you end up doing something with that, we don't know.
B - Maybe.
M - Yeah, who knows. Okay guys, I don't see any more questions, if there aren't any more questions, I think it comes the time, the sad time to say bye to Sergey, to all of you. I had a lot of fun doing this interview and facilitating questions to Sergey. Thank you everyone for coming here, I know for some of you, you're doing it in the night, in the morning and... appreciate that you guys make the effort to come here. And to you too, Sergey, before you go if you want to say anything?
B - Yeah, sure, big thanks to everybody, to you for inviting me, and having this wonderful webinar, and for everybody who watched. It was an absolute pleasure to be here, I hope you enjoyed it.