2020 has made one thing clear feels Sachin Gupta, Co-founder and CEO at HackerEarth, “that technology cannot be an ‘if’ for recruiters anymore; it needs to be baked into the overall hiring process.’’ In this conversation with TecHRseries, catch Sachin share his thoughts on what it’s like setting up a recruitment platform that helps assess developers’ skills accurately while commenting on the key changes to expect in the future of tech hiring and HR Tech.
Tell us a little about yourself Sachin …your journey in tech and the biggest (business / leadership!) takeaways you’ve garnered so far!
I founded HackerEarth at the end of 2012. I was fresh out of engineering school, and had been offered a position at Google. Having gone through the rigmaroles of landing a good job, I realized how biased and inefficient the tech recruiting process was and wanted to solve it. HackerEarth was born out of a simple mission to help developers discover the best opportunities in an unbiased and scientific manner.
It’s been an amazing journey over the years with several learnings. What stands out is watching how technology platforms have changed from being enablers to becoming the biggest disruptors in recent times. Tech is a common thread that runs across all businesses, and organizations across the world are struggling to hire the best talent. At the same time, an increasing number of students and jobseekers are looking to build their careers in technology. According to an IMF report, technology and science jobs in the United States outnumbered qualified workers by roughly 3 million as of 2016 (Source). As a result there is both a huge opportunity and a challenge to create an ecosystem where developers all across the globe get matched to the right opportunities.
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How did the idea / inspiration for HackerEarth come about and can you tell us a little about the platform?
The idea came from a very personal experience. We were in the final year of engineering school and campus hiring was in full swing. A common friend, who also happened to be one of the best students around, couldn’t get through the top companies despite having excellent credentials and practical hands-on skill. It was clearly a fallout from an inefficient recruitment process. This realization was the seed of HackerEarth, and the impetus to build a platform that allows developers to objectively showcase their skills and get hired.
Businesses in the digital world have realized that more often than not their survival depends on hiring a small but skilled team of developers. HackerEarth functions on this very core mantra: Only Skills Matter. HackerEarth Assessments, our core product, enables easier, efficient, and accurate measurement of developer coding skills through virtual assessments. Engineers have been complaining for years about whiteboard assessments, including David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of Ruby on Rails. HackerEarth is the answer to such outdated and biased assessments. Once a candidate progresses beyond the assessment round, hiring managers can use HackerEarth’s FaceCode for a remote interview. FaceCode is both Zoom meet and an IDE – the interactive interface allows interviewers to assess a candidate’s coding skills in real time during an online interview. And since we believe in the importance of skill, we have also introduced a L&D offering where you can continuously assess employee skills, identify skill gaps, and suggest learning pathways
We also believe in giving back to the developer community through hackathons, social challenges which help developers gain recognition for their skills and ingenuity. Engineers can also find practice sessions on our platform and use them as interview prep.
What are some of the other game-changing innovations in HR Tech that you’d like to talk about. And what are your thoughts on the future of the global HR tech segment?
In recent times employers like Jet.com and the British Army have used virtual reality to let potential candidates experience real-life scenarios at the workplace, which I think is a fun idea and has extreme relevance in a post-COVID world. VR also has use in the interview and hiring process, and I would be excited to see more on this front.
As we prepare to enter 2021 and the ‘new normal’, I also expect to see innovations that change employees’ daily lives and increase psychological safety – the cornerstone of sustained employee engagement in a remote working model. Cloud-based computing tools, and increasingly sophisticated algorithms and HR-focused applications which create efficiency and transparency across the board will be the new norm. All HR professionals can benefit from using a data-driven approach to make important decisions around compensation, promotions and appraisals, budgeting, and agile cross-functional team staffing.
We will also see an increase in on-demand, mobile-friendly, and omnichannel recruitment tools. Instagram has already become a favorite for brands looking to hire GenZ aspirants. We’ll see more of these tools breaking the LinkedIn-only mold and enabling recruiters to reach out to passive candidates on various platforms. Legacy software will then need to undergo a huge revamp and use a mix of RPA, sentiment analysis, and big data to analyze and streamline hiring across different social channels.
Training and upskilling will also be in the limelight; especially in the technical fields where employees are expected to remain updated with new programming skills or risk becoming obsolete. Millennials, for example, often cite “learning and development opportunities” as one of the foremost drivers of a “good job.” Employers and HR managers are thus expected to provide their workforce with the time, opportunity, and coaching for skill development. Doing so would involve continuous benchmarking, identification, and bridging of skill gaps.
Personally, I am most excited about innovations and changes in tech recruiting which help in eliminating bias. Technology suffers from a huge gender and race gap – even big names like Google and Facebook are victims of such biases. At the same time, it is expected that by 2030 the United States would face a shortage of 6 million tech workers. The only way to solve this is to open up our tech recruitment processes and hire based on skill, rather than on the basis of geography, race, or gender. The HackerEarth platform has already incorporated bias-free hiring features towards this goal, and I look forward to related developments.
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How have you seen the HR Tech market adapt to changing business needs during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Recruiting has been one of the most impacted sectors because of COVID-19. I am sure that like us, other HR Tech vendors have also seen changes in the way companies approach their business. Because COVID has significantly accelerated digital adoption, most HR Tech providers are going to experience tailwinds and see growth in the long run. COVID has forced many organizations to find virtual solutions to everyday tasks which were earlier deemed unfeasible. With time, we have realized the efficiency gains that come from a technology-driven process. This period has also caused many large organizations to spend time reevaluating tools and processes and think about setting up efficient, resilient processes for years to come.
Given the challenges businesses are facing in the new normal; what are your thoughts on how HR leaders can help contribute to better work cultures and employee experiences during this time? How can they use innovative HR Technologies to boost the outcomes of these HR initiatives?
Remote working is here to stay and even if offices do open up next year, some part of the workforce will like to continue working remotely. While remote working comes with its advantages, it can also result in fatigue due to blurred boundaries between work and life, and social isolation. In this regard, HR leaders have a big responsibility to ensure that they put in place processes to ensure that people feel connected and cared for even when not co-located. The onus is on us to convert challenges into opportunities and drive key initiatives. For instance, shifting to a completely digital screening and interviewing process opens up our workplaces to automation and better governance. HR leaders can also use the spotlight on remote hiring to further their diversity and inclusion initiatives.
We’d love to know a little about HackerEarth’s experience and the team’s response to adjusting to the new normal…what are some top employee practices that were put in place especially because of the pandemic?
Communication, transparency, and empathy have always been the cornerstones of our culture. But now, more than ever, I realize the importance of these behaviors. It is important to understand that each employee is grappling with a number of issues right now: worrying about their own safety, the safety of their loved ones, job security, pay cuts and what not. At HackerEarth we have tried our best to create a sense of normalcy by amplifying engagement. We have been doing regular AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions with team leaders – it bolsters everyone’s confidence to know we are all in the same boat. It is also a good antidote to isolation.
Business decisions are communicated in a more transparent manner, and any concerns regarding the same are also dealt with openly. While we are committed to enabling team members to deliver results, we are doing so with conscious empathy and understanding.
We have also been actively hosting hackathons for our developer community to keep them engaged, and allow them a way to think outside the box. The hackCOVID event we hosted between April-May saw participation from more than 3,500 teams from 40 countries.
What are some best practices you’d advise startup entrepreneurs to keep in mind during this downtime?
1. Make the hard decisions early and ensure your team feels equally invested in those decisions: One of the hardest decisions I made during this pandemic was choosing between laying off employees or enforcing a pay cut across the board to save jobs. Like many businesses, these were the only two options I had and despite my reluctance I had to talk to the team about it. As a collective, we all decided to sacrifice a part of salaries to ensure zero layoffs. I was grateful that I didn’t choose on their behalf, because no leader has the right to.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: In these times, I’d rather be accused of ‘over’communicating than keeping silent. Though I would not wish a crisis on any of my peers, I would recommend that they take their role in mitigating employee anxiety very seriously. In the early days of the pandemic I was a little too taken up by business needs and was tad more invested in keeping the firm alive than I should have been. My communication with the team suffered as a result. As penance, I have now increased the frequency of our virtual town halls, and try to do frequent one-on-one sessions with senior executives and new hires alike.
3. Pivot is not just a dialogue from Friends: Ben Horowitz said; a successful wartime CEO is someone who attacks the market while others seek to merely preserve their market share. Many brands have responded to the market’s uncertainty by minimizing cash burn, maintaining core offerings, and prioritizing customer service to avoid churn. We at HackerEarth decided to use this time to develop and introduce a new video-interviewing platform called FaceCode, which has seen massive uptick in these past months. Bottomline: when the market calls for a pivot, you pivot. That’s what successful CEOs do.
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A few general thoughts / tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic?
Every challenge hides an opportunity; look for the opportunities COVID may have opened for your business and double down on them.
Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourself. If you don’t do it someone else will disrupt you.
Be close to your people. This situation is very new to us and it’s very easy to feel socially isolated and disconnected; making it all the more important to stay in touch. And, Invest in innovation – while you may be thinking about survival, it’s also important to focus on innovation.
Sachin Gupta is the Co-founder and CEO of HackerEarth