Devworx interviews Maryam Norouzi, VP - Crowdsourcing Community Operations, Appirio

With the Indian Regionals for TopCoder Open coming to a close, we sit down with Maryam Norouzi to discuss TopCoder and its initiatives in India

Published Date
11 - Sep - 2015
| Last Updated
11 - Sep - 2015
Devworx interviews Maryam Norouzi, VP - Crowdsourcing Community O...

Of all the metropolitan cities in India, why was Jaipur for TopCoder’s Indian leg?
Maryam: We have been with developers in Jaipur for the past eight years since the inception of the company, we are very familiar with the talent pool which exists here and our company outside of the crowd sourcing platform has grown considerably over the past 8 years, so earlier this year when we decided to take TopCoder Open, which is our largest developer community event globally we thought of no other better place than Jaipur to go ahead and host the event for our 1st India event. We had been very impressed with the talent pool that has existed across the local universities in Jaipur, although our event is open to developers all across India. So it seemed like a right place to go ahead and start and host future events in India.

What was the response from the Indian crowd compared to Russia and Japan?
Maryam: The response has been overwhelmingly positive to the point that we expect close to 400 developers along with a long waiting list as compared to our other events, which were much smaller in scale. We are very excited to go ahead and organise the event this year at Manipal University. The general nature of these events is that they’re kept small, so that it was a great networking opportunity for the attendees. But in spite of that it’s been very exciting for us to watch the list of attendees grow and our waiting list is equally large indicating that in the future we need to plan for a much larger venue as well as larger staff to keep with the huge demand and interest we have seen in India.

Could you elaborate upon the demographics of the attendees?
Maryam: I will let Gajendra talk to the specifics, but it is pretty widespread. We have a very strong evangelist program with plenty of evangelists who spent a lot of time on the road and we have visited over a hundred universities across India of all kinds, of different levels. So given that we are stationed and positioned strongly in Jaipur we have reached out to a lot of local Jaipur universities and expect attendees from those universities. But we have people flying in from cities like Bengaluru and other parts of India.
Gajendra: Based on the accommodations that we have made for the out station candidates, I can tell that around 30 to 40 per cent of the attendees are flying down from Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Delhi for this event. Also the people who are flying down to are primarily professionals who were once in college have taken part in TopCoder challenges. So, yes this event has got considerable participation from other cities apart from Jaipur.

Between the evangelist programme and organic reach, what’s the ratio of the participants for this year’s TopCoder event?
Gajendra: Organic reach through word of mouth is a bit more than what our evangelism program is doing. But through our evangelism we are creating many offline programs and the human-touch element is getting a bit bigger through our various SRMs(Single Round Match) and Hackathons that we are hosting throughout the country.
Maryam: To add to that, over the past six months our evangelism program has become pretty established in Jaipur, we have seen our numbers in India increasing at a very rapid rate. Our current total member count in India is nearly equal to 1,75,000 and has become the 2nd largest country represented in our community after USA, prior to that India and China were in a close race, but because of our evangelism we have been able to go ahead and get the word out at a much faster.

Could you elaborate more on your evangelism programme? Do you conduct intensive month-long workshops or is it a different approach?
Maryam: Our team is working very hard with the universities to really establish a long term relationship. Often evangelists make multiple visits to a university. The initial visit is primarily focussed on education around a crowd, what value the crowd can bring to the developer community, anything from giving them the ability to prove their skill set, to be able to get global exposure to types of brands that may not typically be accessible to them and also in some cases potential to make an income. So our evangelists spent a lot a time with these students educating them on what the ‘value-of-crowd’ is and why does it make sense for them to go ahead and become a member, for which membership for anyone is for free. So from a commitment prospective there is nothing in play other than gains, which will hopefully help the students develop a type of skill set that makes them marketable. But beyond that we continue to go ahead and nurture that relationship. The evangelists do make by the recurring visits to the universities to make sure that the engagement level stays up. Often times the students require a lot of hand holding. So I guess to answer your question although we don’t have a program that’s month long, but the nature of the conversations and relationships building are much more long term so that we may be an asset to the universities so that we can maximise the benefit they can get from top coders.

Out of 406,943 people registered on the website, only 15.3% have participated in an algorithm competition, 0.3% in design, 0.7% in development and 1.5% in marathon matches. (Source: Wiki) Has this statistic changed for the better with TopCoder's increasing popularity or otherwise?
Maryam: Obviously with any kind of a change there is a bit of a vision re-establishment that needs to happen. The fact that we have committed in building an evangelism team as well as a larger team presence in Jaipur office really focussed on centre around a crowd shows our commitment towards top coder as a community. Our community over the last couple of years from a growth perspective has had a huge growth spurt to the fact that we actually organically add about 5,000 new members every week and our anticipated numbers by early next year will be around one million strong community of developers, designers and data scientists across the globe. 
As far as participation is concerned, there are other players in the market as well. We work very hard to ensure we have the right level of engagement, for example taking TCO on the road globally. It is one of those initiatives for us to be able to go ahead and increase our community engagement, so although our numbers may fluctuate and we see different companies playing the same market. We believe ultimately from a community perspective and from a developer perspective we are providing a service that is of value not only to students but as well as to professionals who want to really take advantage of what the crowd gives them as an ability, but also really at the business aspect too. 
We as a company are committed to really transform the way the businesses work beyond what the traditional models have been, whether its consulting of which Appirio has a very established Consulting arm. We have a very successful off shore presence, but we also believe that crowd plays an important role in the future deliveries and deductions. So from that perspective, we have commitments from all the angles committed to the community, to our members to be able to go ahead and create an environment for them that helps them thrive, build their skill sets while we work on our demand side while working with our customers to make sure that they are thinking ahead and starting to include crowd delivery as part of their overall approach to getting their work done.

How has your roadmap for TopCoder changed?
Maryam: The direction for sure has not changed, I think if anything our commitment and the fact that people believe that crowd sourcing it’s absolutely disruptive, the way that the future labour market would be has not changed. However, we are very realistic in expectations that this is not a change that happens overnight. 20 years ago when offshore was at the beginning at being something new and disruptive, there was a lot of scepticism, but think ahead 20 years later we are talking about a $100 billion industry involving millions of people across the globe. We believe that crowd is also going to have the same disruptive nature to it. However, if something that is very new basically means that combining ‘Cloud Spokes’ to TopCoders allows us to have a much larger reach from a community perspective given that Cloud Spokes was less than a 1,00,000 members and with TopCoders acquisition we got an additional 5,00,000 members and now we are closing to a million. As you can see our commitment on that front has not changed much like as we go to our special enterprise customers we continue to go ahead and carry the message of the crowd. We believe that crowd has to play a role in the future of enterprise, it’s not the answer to everything, but much like offshore has become an integral part of getting worked on. We feel that there is a huge place for the crowd and we are at the fore front of that. So from the commitment perspective we expect more. And joining forces has allowed us to really position us as one of the pioneers in something that’s going to be massively disruptive in years to come.

What are the challenges to crowdsourcing programs?
Maryam: Given that how new the model is, one of the challenges is working with the enterprises to help them to understand how best to take advantages of the crowd; what types of work, how should work be structured. As you know when it comes to getting work done atomizing, breaking down the work to an extent that it can become units that can be explained and explained well, so that you can maximize the knowledge base that exists as well as the ability to get work done in parallel is really the biggest change. I think from a model perspective; this model is different. So, educating the enterprise is the best way to go ahead and leveraging the crowd where it makes sense, is really the biggest challenge that we have. But much like any disruptive model given that it is new we are committed. We actually have a lot of training programs that we’ve put in place in a way to educate enterprises for augmenting their capacity. So I would say really the challenge is to be able to go ahead and integrate the way that the crowd works as compared to what most enterprises are used to. 

Mithun MohandasMithun Mohandas

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