Winning a Trip to The Googleplex

I just won a free trip to the Google Headquarters. How did I do it?

For the last three years, Google has run an international programming competition, Google Code-In, for pre-university students between the ages of 13 and 17. There are ten open-source software organizations that take part and create sets of programming tasks, usually requiring the student to write a small amount of code. After completing one task, students earn a certificate that will be mailed to them. After completing three tasks, students win a Google t-shirt.

What’s most interesting, however, is the grand prize. Each of the ten organizations name two students as grand prize winners, making a total of twenty winners. A winner receives a four-night all-expenses-paid trip to Google’s headquarters (a.k.a. The Googleplex) in Mountain View, California. The winners get to speak with Google engineers, tour Google, visit San Francisco, and receive additional prizes (swag); last year’s winners each received a Galaxy Nexus smart phone!

When I discovered this competition on December 1st — a few days after it began — I thought “well this would be a fun way to win a free t-shirt!” And so I began contributing code to a game called Hedgewars, completing tasks. Within a few days, I earned my shirt, but I didn’t feel like stopping. I didn’t even have the grand prize in mind; I was making significant contributions to the game and its main developers were loving my work. It was too rewarding to stop.

24 hours before the contest ended, I decided to re-read the rules of the competition. In doing so, I discovered that only the top-five students within each organization are considered for the grand prize — of which two will win.

I was in 6th place.

The most intense all-nighter of my life happened on the morning of January 14th, 2013. Yep, that’s a Monday. I may have called in sick to school. Adrenaline flowing, I completed more tasks in the last 24 hours of the competition than I have in the first seven weeks. Arc Riley, the head of the organization, took notice.

I made 5th place, and felt fantastic. Perhaps partly due to the residual adrenaline. I was satisfied that I made it as a finalist, because otherwise I would have automatically lost any chance of winning the grand prize, and all of my work would have been for nothing. Well, not nothing, but you know what I mean.

I participated in this competition just to win a t-shirt, and ended up a finalist, which by itself is good enough for me. But then I won.