What defines a tech company?
Our guest Vivek Ravisankar, CEO and Co-Founder of HackerRank, talks about the ever changing presence tech has in all industries. The definition of a tech company used to be an easy question to answer a few years back with the likes of Google and whatnot, but it seems like every single industry needs tech to get ahead now.
There has been a massive amount of innovation across all industries in the last generation, that much is obvious. Thankfully the interview process has changed as well too, since back in the early days of software engineering, code was written down on a piece of paper, or a white board, or occasionally shared over the phone. How was that ever a solution?
Those nuanced interview questions of the past are behind us. No longer should your software recruiter be asking you "how many golf balls can fit into a Boeing 747" they should be asking you real world questions that emulate your job as much as possible. That's the goal: to eventually not have to worry about your resume, your "abstract problem solving skills," or other nuanced things.
If you can do your job well and fit into the company culture, what else really matters?
This HR Tech 2022 series is sponsored and made possible by our friends at Gem!
School is in session. This is Recruiting Daily Sourcing School podcast. We're recording from HR Tech in Vegas. Thanks to our friends and partners at Gem. Sharpen your pencils and get your sourcing pants on because we have the scoop on sourcing news, recruiting tech, and all the hot topics that you need to learn about. Here's your professor, Ryan Leery with special guests, Shelley Stacker and Mike Batman Cohen.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (00:29):
Awesome. We are back. We're going to jump right into this. I don't want to waste any time here. I'm going to treat this interview exactly like I do the tech market. We have the Vivek, CEO at this little company, maybe you've heard of, called Hacker Rank. So hey, Vivek, tell us a little bit about yourself and kinda what-who we're talking to.
Vivek Ravisankar (00:51):
Yeah, you're talking to Vivek, the founder and CEO of Hacker Rank. I used to be a developer at Amazon prior to this and did a lot of technical interviews myself, and found that resumes didn't have a great correlation to skills, which is what got me started with this company. And we started off as a very simple idea to level the playing field for developers on the screening process by having them showcase the code that they write as opposed to what's present in a piece of paper. And that was a huge hit. And turns out that there's literally every aspect of the life cycle journey of a developer from how you prepare for jobs, how you get sourced, screened, interviewed, up-skill within the organization. Everything can be transformed with the notion of skill over pedigree, which has become the ethos of the company. So that is Hacker Rank, we're about 350 people. We're remote first. We have 3,200 paying customers who use us for hiding great developers. And we have a huge developer community, that's now 21 million developers in our community who come to practice challenges on our website, which is completely free to make sure that they're really well prepared for job. So that's Hacker Rank.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (01:54):
Cool. Man, it-I'm confused. It sounds like what you're saying is that software engineers are not professional resume writers. That is, Oh, I can't even handle that.
Vivek Ravisankar (02:02):
That is big news.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (02:02):
Vivek Ravisankar (02:03):
You should put this in the trailer of the podcast. Yeah.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (02:06):
That's awesome. I know one of the things I was interested in talking to you about, because you were a software engineer, right? You're still a software engineer, but you were working as a software engineer. This was a little over a decade ago, with Amazon. And I'm intrigued because I've been recruiting tech folks for that long as well. Thinking about the difference that exists in terms of how we approach tech candidates then versus now. Can you talk a little bit to that? And that can be about the general approach that can be about the technology involved, the interview process, what's your experience and how you've seen that morph?
Vivek Ravisankar (02:41):
Wow. Lot of things to uncover in no particular order. I think the first big change that has happened over the last decade is fundamentally every industry and every company is a software company right now. To do-your Tesla is basically a software company, which means Ford is a software company, which means GM is a software company. Everybody's trying to build self-driving cars and have apps on the phone and things of those lines. And the same thing goes with retail. The same thing goes with healthcare. So the same thing goes with FinTech. FinTech is so hard. It's harder than what you would consider as a traditional web company, web-based company to do. So the fundamental landscape of what is a tech company used to be Amazons and Microsofts and Googles of the world. And today it's literally every organization to go ahead and do it. So it means that the demand for developers is off the charts.
So that's one big change, in doing that. The second one is the amount of three resources and infrastructure that has been developed over the time in-has enabled a lot more people to become developers without going to college and getting a four year traditional CS degree. So the supply of developers is also completely changed. And now some of the best developers actually don't have a traditional resume or traditional degree to go ahead and do it. They're all self-taught developers. And finally, more recently, that has happened over the last maybe two years or so, is remote first work has completely leveled the playing field. Now you no longer need to restrict your talent pool within the 10 to 15 mile radius that you're present. The world is your oyster. Go ahead and figure out how to hire people and how to get people anywhere in the world. These are big trends that have actually fundamentally changed the game in software developer hiring.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (04:25):
Yeah. Yes. The remote first thing is definitely leveling a playing field that people are adjusting to. Let me ask you, and this is not just because you founded Hacker Rank, I'm actually intrigued. Interview process, right? I'm talking mid to late 2000's.
Vivek Ravisankar (04:41):
Mike "Batman" Cohen (04:41):
You're a software engineer, you're going to go interview for a job, and there's obviously the personality, there's the tech skills and the assessment, there's the executive and the finance piece. How has that fundamentally changed based on those three facets you just brought up?
Vivek Ravisankar (04:56):
Yeah, I think maybe I'll talk about two dimensions. One is the type of questions that people have people are asking, and the other one is the technology that's being used that-from the type of question, maybe late nineties, Microsoft was the giant software company just still now it's the 2 trillion company, but it was known to be one big software company. And Bill Gates used to love solving puzzles. So a lot of the interview process used to be things like, "Hey, can you tell me how many golf balls fit in a 7-4-7," kind of questions to test your mental aptitude. And then soon came Google, which was a very strong competitor to Microsoft in terms of who's going to be the better software company. And of course they took on a very ambitious vision, which is, 'I want to index the entire web,' so you better write code that is super, super optimal.
And so they started to ask a lot of hard algorithm and data structure type of questions to do. And soon enough, every other company said, "Oh, if Google is the best software company and they're asking this, I want to go ahead and do this." And now what you start to see is there are lots of different types of companies that are all so competing against Google, not in their space, but for the title of 'Who's the best software company to have?' And they all have different kinds of interview process. And today the kind of interview process that a lot of these companies do is as close to a simulation of real world. That's as much as possible. So actually they give you a real world exercise to be able to go ahead and do it, instead of trying to rely on these proxies of, can you figure out how to break down a complex problem of golf balls? Or can you solve algorithms and data structures? Hey, here is a code snippet, or here is a real world code. Can you go ahead and fix a bug or add a feature and things in those lines to have that? So that's been a big change in the type of questions that you asked. The next piece of it is the technology that's being used. Like I mentioned, when I got recruited at Amazon, that's been over a decade, I feel old.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (06:41):
But since you were 12. When you were 12, got it.
Vivek Ravisankar (06:43):
Exactly. Yeah. Maybe 12 and a half.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (06:45):
Vivek Ravisankar (06:46):
Let's do it. And it's changed a lot. I got recruited, I wrote code on a piece of paper-.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (06:51):
Vivek Ravisankar (06:52):
And the hiring manager actually looked at the code and said, "Okay, that's great, and we're going to call for an interview." And then in the interview I had to read code over a phone to do it and the hiring manager would actually go ahead and write and say, "This is what it is to do it." So from a technology perspective, a lot has changed. Right? Nobody writes code on paper anymore. And there's, of course, Hacker Rank is a big piece of trying to re-invent the whole market. That's my plug.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (07:18):
Vivek Ravisankar (07:18):
Although, I know that you gave all the intro-introductions for me. And more recently, the whole notion of white boat has gone away.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (07:27):
Vivek Ravisankar (07:28):
Even until recently, I would say pre-Covid, like three years back or so. The way that developers used to get interviewed, where you would call a developer to your office, lock them up in a conference room for four hours, have them write code on a white board, which by the way, no developer writes code day to day on a white board and then stare at them doing that. It's the most high-.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (07:47):
Vivek Ravisankar (07:47):
Mike "Batman" Cohen (07:48):
I want to touch on this just for two seconds.
Vivek Ravisankar (07:50):
Mike "Batman" Cohen (07:50):
For the tech recruiters who are listening who don't know this-.
Vivek Ravisankar (07:53):
Mike "Batman" Cohen (07:53):
The idea of the memorization of syntax versus the understanding, and I'm not super technical, my understanding is if you're white boarding or in your case literally writing it on paper.
Vivek Ravisankar (08:04):
Mike "Batman" Cohen (08:04):
The expectation is not only that you understand how to code, but that you've actually memorized all of the syntax that you would need. Are developers actually memorizing all of the syntax that they need on a day to day basis?
Vivek Ravisankar (08:16):
I mean, I think some of them might just be muscle memory, but developers rely a lot on auto complete on other tools that are actually coming. And today-not today, but a few months back, GitHub launched something called a co-pilot, which basically it's a-it's auto complete on steroids. It basically says you can just say write a code that will do this and it will just write it. It's not even auto complete. It's taking auto complete to a whole new level.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (08:39):
Vivek Ravisankar (08:39):
It's bettered by auto GPD three, the new language learning model that was actually released. So I think, I actually don't even, quote un-quote, blame recruiters. These are hiding managers who are developers who are sitting with the candidate and looking at them writing quote on whiteboard. When you know that as a developer, you've never done that in your day to day job, so why do you want to put candidates through it?
And now with remote first, when people are not coming back to work or coming back to offices, or maybe they have come back to office three days a week kind of thing, the interview still happened remote. So when the interviews still happen remote, you don't have a choice but to use a tech tool that can enable you to do a paired programming, coding exercise with a candidate as opposed to ask them to write on a white board. So from a technology perspective, it's gone from paper to assessments to paired programming solution in a setting that's more developer friendly. And from a type of question, it's gone from asking how many golf balls fit into at 7-4-7 to now asking real world exercise. So that's been the story arc or the trajectory that has changed over the years.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (09:42):
I love that. And a good timeline in projection. Last question for you, and we talked about this briefly and you mentioned earlier that all companies are kinda moving to being a tech company now and software engineers are in higher demand than they've ever been in it. And I think there are probably listeners now who are like, "I don't know, Vivek. I've got Twitter and I follow crunch base and Tech Crunch, and it actually seems like things are slowing down and we may be in some trouble moving forward," and as a recruiter in this space, I don't believe that that's the case, but I think there's a big perception around that. Can you talk to maybe the validity or fallacy behind that statement?
Vivek Ravisankar (10:23):
Yeah. Did you fly into Vegas?
Mike "Batman" Cohen (10:25):
Vivek Ravisankar (10:26):
Okay. So I flew in too, and on the way here I was reading the biography of Wright Brothers.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (10:31):
Vivek Ravisankar (10:33):
And it's pretty stunning to see how the airline industry has evolved in under a hundred years since it was invented. And I know a hundred years seems like a big time, but in the grand scheme of things, it's just one generation from a guy who is attaching wings and trying to fly in the outskirts of North Carolina, in the Kitty Hawk Island, today, us having super sonic jets, commercial air crafts fitted with Netflix and wifi, and any kind of functionalities that you want to imagine, it's pretty stunning. And it's not just the airline industry. If you take any industry for that matter, you would find a similar story arc, which is a tremendous amount of innovation powered by software. And in-we think of internally at Hacker Rank, or in other words, we think of it as, innovation never sleeps. It's agnostic of market fluctuations. Because here's why, human needs can never be satiated.
You're never happy. When was the last time you were happy?Maybe for a moment, and then you started thinking, "Oh, that person has something. I need something else." Dude, human needs can never be satiated. And technology is trying to continue to push boundaries on solving a particular human need, and then you are upset about something else, and then you keep going. So if you just think about-and if you take that concept and marry that with the notion that every company is fundamentally a tech company, it means that every organization, innovation can never sleep. Which means the moment you slow down or stop hiring developers and things on those lines to do it, you are starting to sleep. Now I understand there are some constraints that you need to marry with what's happening in the market and stuff, but always keep this in mind. You are starting to sleep and one day when you sleep fully, it's gone. It's dead. It doesn't matter what your-past laurels are just like over to do. So that's the kind of thinking that we have and we call it internally as innovation ever sleeps, and it doesn't matter what the market fluctuations is like, you got to continue to innovate, you got to push hard on your developer hiring and up-skilling.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (12:32):
So all my tech recruiters, I hope you heard that. The dooming gloom may have its parameters, but ultimately software engineering hiring should not and therefore probably will not ever really cease. So Vivek, last thing I like to do with everybody is what is one thing you want to leave the listeners with? The one thing for them to take away into their heart, their soul, their mind, their professional being from this chat.
Vivek Ravisankar (12:58):
When you're designing the interview experience design, to make sure that you can extract the best version of a candidate and not an experience where you are trying to show off how good you are.
Mike "Batman" Cohen (13:11):
I love that. Thank you, Vivek. I know you crazy busy here at HR Tech. Thank you for donating your time. It's been a pleasure having you. Have a great rest of your day.
Speaker 4 (13:24):
Oh man, that means it's over.
Speaker 5 (13:27):
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