The show must go on: special Coding Contest in special times

In November 2019 we started our blog article about the CCC that broke all records in terms of the number of participants. What a celebration it was! Now, we can also be very proud of the results we achieved; despite these unexpected circumstances, we are pleased to let you know the hard facts: we could welcome aboard 3665 participants, 35 cities and 15 countries. That is fascinating. But we have even more reasons to celebrate. Reason one is: during our 33rd CCC we officially introduced the Cloudflight Coding Contest as a brand. And reason no. 2? Well, we can say that the biggest online-only event in the company’s life was conducted – which means that all of the set up that had taken weeks and months was changed just three weeks before the contest started. It’s incredible how well people have worked on it — it’s marvelous what a team we have!

The magic of an onsite CCC

“Finding out that the coding contest would be available only online was something I completely didn’t expect” – says Alexandru Cosma, Location Lead in Cluj. “For years now we’ve hosted it in the same space but in just 2-3 weeks, everything was turned upside down! There’s something very special, almost magical, that happens when hundreds of people gather in the same room, amphitheater or hall and start working on the same thing, at the same time. There is a certain pressure you get when you see someone jump for joy because they solved a level faster than you did. That pressure motivates, pushes you, doesn’t let you take a break! This can’t really be mimicked online, only partially. The comfort of your own home is most likely not the most competitive setting one can find oneself in. There might be many distractions, very few which help progress in such a contest, most actually hindering it. There are advantages of course – some people might actually prefer competing from home.”

Cancel or conduct online?

“I was at the 5th edition, involved in organizing the coding contest” – stated Ana Girbea, Marketing Manager behind the scenes of CCC. “We already had the know-how which we could apply each time, the difference being that at each event we wanted to be better and overcome previous editions’ records. I never thought for one second that the 33rd edition would be different from that point of view until the recent events took place.”
Although we didn’t break any records this time, we didn’t cancel the event either. In fact, we  successfully organized our biggest online event ever, despite having to cancel all 35 on-site host locations a mere 3 weeks before the event, all the while focusing on a very new setup.
“This was certainly a challenge for us as we have never organized it like that before” – added Tijana Stasuk, Head Of Marketing at Cloudflight. “We were organizing a global online contest for the first time and it was hard to know if we were on the right track” – she continues. “To be honest, this also gave me a certain level of adrenaline rush that could easily replace daily caffeine intake.”

Re-structure the communication

“The most challenging moment was when people who registered started to withdraw when we announced this would be an online-only event” – added Ana Girbea, who is responsible for social media communication at Cloudflight. “At that time we had to change the communication strategy. Even though we already had materials targeting potential participants for the CCC, the immediate need made us come up with different concepts and focus on the people withdrawing as well as past participants. The hardest moments were the greatest, too. We realized that there are a lot of advantages to having an online contest and we don’t have to cancel it as it happened to other events. From that moment on, we focused all our communication efforts towards the advantages and opportunities of such an online event: breaking the isolation induced monotony, staying sharp and testing their skills while at home, not posing any risks for their health. We could see the results in the number of registrations immediately.”

Linz vs Online-only

Johannes Eichberger attended his first CCC as a videographer 8 years ago. “It took place in Linz and I had the chance to feel the vibe in the hall and to interview the winners personally. This time, 8 years later, we had to change the whole concept from what had grown to a multi-location contest to an online-only event. So we moved the moderation to a stream. It’s amazing to see how this contest has kept its original thrill all over so many years.”

Our stream-team is a dream team

We provided a stream channel for our participants where they – depending on their location – could get all the rules and info from either Ture Sayer and Julia Rechberger or from Iulia Cornea and Manuel Geier.
“This was the fifth time I moderated a CCC, but the first time doing a remote moderation. It was a really weird feeling to talk towards an unresponsive camera and not a room full of people” – said Ture Sayer, Location Lead in Cologne. For Julia Rechberger, who is Software Developer in the Frankfurt office, it was the hardest part finding a neutral and fitting background in her apartment. “I ended up using my coffee table sitting on 2 meditation cushions.” Iulia Cornea, Software Developer from Cluj, never acted as a moderator at a CCC before, so this edition was her premiere. “I’m used to having flexible roles at Cloudflight, but I never thought I’d get to the role of a moderator. This was the closest I got to a cinematographic experience and after this, there is a newfound respect inside of me for vloggers or youtubers everywhere.” For Manuel Geier, Software Developer and Project Lead in Vienna,  it was very helpful that the support-team provided a detailed moderation script for them. “With great team effort we managed to do a great job and the best thing about this new challenge was that we actually had a lot of fun doing it! We really hope that the participants enjoyed it, too.”

The challenge of the 33rd version

Divided into two sections with corresponding levels of complexity – school CCC (2 hours) and classic CCC  (4 hours) – the participants had to deal with the futuristic topic of quantum computing and data transmission by plane. “For the school CCC we tried to model the way that news travels in the real world from person to person. The end game was to simulate multiple news in different random people networks and find out how viral (how many people will know about it) they get” – explained the game Andrei Gavrila, Software Developer from Cluj. For the main CCC we put ourselves in the situation of quantum computing breaking all known methods of encryption. We had to find out how communication between 2 locations could be realized without relying on the internet. The method we implemented was using planes to transport the data in physical form and transfer it from one plane to another whenever they were close enough.

Surreal, amazing, fun

We asked our other colleagues as well who supported our stream-team about their discoveries and what they learned at this big online event. Patrick Pfeiler was the Product Owner of the 33rd edition; he said that it was surreal, and he was quite busy making sure that our platform runs smoothly. Tobias Watzl who supported the stream-team, too, stated that nobody has done anything on this scale before. Despite this fact we managed to overcome all the challenges within a couple of days.” Tobias Birbaumer was happy to create some music for the stream of such a big contest. For him it was amazing to be part of this challenge and it was a lot fun. For Matthias Holzinger as a Lead of the stream team, it was a unique experience and gave him a little insight on the kind of experiences and challenges the other livestream-teams have. “I will never look at live streams the same again”.

Retrospective of the online CCC

“It was basically cool that we quickly set up an online mode that was also comparable to the offline contest (i.e. from an operational perspective)” – shared Michael Riedmann his thoughts from a devops point of view. Alexandru emphasized that there were hiccups during the online edition, but nothing in life is ever perfect – nor should it be. According to Tijana, when we decided to host the online competition, we had to take care of lots of tasks that we didn’t handle before. “I felt so proud of being a part of this awesome company where everyone is eager to help and contribute when it’s needed. The level of love and motivation that everyone put into organizing the CCC, even next to their ongoing projects, is something amazing.”

Of course, our participants are the ones who make this whole contest well worth the effort and without knowing that we have such a devout and strong audience, nothing could be done. We extend our deepest appreciation towards all of them! The team of the Cloudflight Coding Contest looks forward to the next contest: show strength and see you on Oct 30th!

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