In modern workplaces, especially the sector which relies hugely on big data and analytics, hackathons are gaining popularity among organisations. Apart from being used to get a fresh perspective for solving critical problems, companies are also using them to shortlist candidates based on actual performance in a simulated environment. This week, Analytics India Magazine spoke to Srinidhi Rao of TheMathCompany to understand how employers want to look at the manner in which these potential candidates are tackling complicated problems either on their own or as a part of a larger group during hackathons.
Analytics India Magazine: How have hackathons become a crucial part of the hiring process in the data science industry? Do you think spotting talent through hackathons will make this process easier?
Srinidhi Rao: Hackathons are one of the tried-and-tested solutions to bridge the gap between theoretical and practical knowledge. As opposed to traditional methods of candidate evaluation, hackathons simulate a real-world environment for candidates with components like solving real business problems to working in a deadline-based environment. Candidates hired through hackathon have a lower chance of being wrong hires with respect to technical capabilities, considering they would have succeeded in real life problem-solving.
AIM: What is your opinion about online hackathon? Have hackathons replaced the traditional way of hiring, say by campus hiring?
SR: Online hackathons are being used more frequently off-late and are yielding better results than traditional means of hiring. The talent pool available becomes much bigger if the entire process of recruitment is moved online as it reduces the impact of the location constraint. Having said that, we feel that right now, augmenting the existing processes with online hackathons is the best way to go, rather than completely replacing it.
AIM: Hackathons solve two purposes — people strategies and the other being solving use cases in an innovative way. Do you agree?
SR: We agree – hackathons simulate a real work environment to test the salient points of an employee’s behaviour (like working within a deadline, problem-solving mindset), thus helping organisations align the prospective employee’s candidature with their people strategy and their over-arching objective.
Hackathons also provide with an excellent opportunity for organizations to crowdsource innovative ideas for some of the challenging new age problems, thus solving problems innovatively.
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AIM: What is the main purpose of conducting a hackathon for you?
SR: The main purpose of conducting a hackathon for us are:
- Evaluating the problem-solving capability of a candidate using real-world problems in a time-bound situation, thus filtering out candidates based on their technical capabilities
- Create brand visibility amongst target hiring pool o Branding opportunity to attract the right talent
AIM: Can you cite a recent example where you hosted a hackathon? What was its purpose?
We recently conducted The Triathlon for the graduating year engineering students across the country. The challenge was taken up by 2,200 students from across 6 campuses. The purpose was to identify the best talent from each college. The Triathlon had questions around:
- Solving a real-world business case study
Top 3 students from each campus were given a direct entry to the final interview round of TheMathCompany.
AIM: How important are hackathons (both internal and external) to boost innovation? Have you and your organisation benefitted from conducting hackathons?
SR: Multiple organizations host periodic hackathons to engage existing employees with a variety of problems and to boost cross-learning across different sets of existing employees. Organizations also prefer hiring an internal candidate for an open position, rather than scout on the market–hackathons are an important way to define the best-fit in those cases. We, as an organization, have benefitted from both, internal (boosting innovation & cross learning) as well as external (finding the right candidate) hackathons.
AIM: Hackathons have become the benchmark for assessing baseline skills? Do you agree, if so what skills? How reliable it is to test skills in the long run?
SR: Hackathons have the potential of becoming a standard way to assess baseline skills like programming and industry knowledge. Hackathons possess an ability to scale in terms of usage in the long run. Collecting data in parallel about the effectiveness of hackathons in creating a narrower hiring funnel will be a major component of this whole growth journey.
AIM: How is hackathon turning into a mainstream hiring requirement?
SR: Hackathons are gaining popularity among organizations to shortlist candidates based on actual performance in a simulated environment. Employers want to look at how candidates tackle complicated problems either on their own or as a part of a larger group (which shows a willingness to work in teams).
AIM: What is your preference for candidates who have participated in hackathon vs direct hiring?
SR: During campus hiring, as the hiring pool is large, hackathons help us filter out the right candidates, who are given a direct entry into the final round, where their behavioural fit with our organization is assessed.
In the case of lateral hires, we do not give any special preference to candidates coming through hackathons as there are other aspects that need to be taken into consideration in a candidate’s profile.
AIM: Are hackathons replacing the need to have short term certification course in areas such as AI, analytics?
SR: We believe that hackathons and short-term certification courses go hand-in-hand. The pool of potential candidates who are moving to the field of data science from other fields is huge. Certification courses allow these candidates to learn various data science concepts in a structured manner. The topics covered in some of these courses are exhaustive and provide a brilliant opportunity for candidates to get started on real-world data science problems. Hackathons assist them in implementing these concepts on-to real-life problems.
AIM: In future, how will hackathons evolve (smaller, online hackathons or the preference will be for offline events)?
SR: We are going to see a combination of online and offline events. Online events will mostly serve as the first round to shortlist the right candidates. Advanced rounds are going to be offline events which will build a better connect between candidates and employers.
AIM: Who are your partners with whom you usually prefer conducting hackathons?
SR: We don’t have any preferred partners for conducting hackathons. We have used the available platforms and created our own custom design of the entire process.
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Srishti currently works as Associate Editor at Analytics India Magazine. When not covering the analytics news, editing and writing articles, she could be found reading or capturing thoughts into pictures.