(Part 1 )When Cabbies Make Ace Coders: Why Skill-Based Hiring Matters In Tech
Talent Assessment > Hiring Based On Skills
Growing up, this is what I heard often: Creativity is innate. You don’t necessarily need to go to a school to learn fine arts; if you have a passion for it, you will find a way to do what you love. When it comes to the sciences though, a college degree and the right training is a must. You couldn’t dream to do well in life if you didn’t have the right academic background.
Circa 2021. I am part of a company that believes in hiring based on skills rather than resumes alone i.e. one’s pedigree and academic laurels. Being brought up the way I was, this sat a little uneasy with me – HackerEarth hires people who write code to build things even if they don’t have the ‘right’ educational qualifications? Wait! HackerEarth also builds products to help other tech companies do the same?
Was there a conspiracy going on in the tech hiring world against systemic education that I hadn’t heard of? I decided to investigate this thoroughly. My primary informant: HackerEarth’s Chief Of Engineers, Vishwastam Shukla, or Vishy as we like to call him.
A Bit About Vishy
A passionate coder and programmer, Vishy calls the notable IIIT Allahabad his alma mater.
For him, the allure of computers was a childhood fascination, and it boiled down to one thing: the ability to create something new in a short timeframe with just a few lines of code. It’s a fascination that still holds him in its grip.
He heads the entire engineering function and the quasi-engineering, or the technical content team, at HackerEarth, and is a passionate proponent of skill-based hiring and using technology to match the right developer to the right teams.
A scientific analysis ensued, in which I asked the questions, and Vishy, very generously, answered. The following is what ensued during our discussion.
Question 1: What does the word ‘skill’ mean for engineers and developers?
What a software developer essentially does is solve problems with the help of code. Now, coding has its own language and grammar. The most desired skill, therefore, among the developer community is the ability to write clean, functional code that doesn’t need to be sanitized against bugs. An understanding of the fundamentals of computer science is also necessary.
A good developer understands the development environment and the tech stacks used. Hence, a working knowledge of the set of processes and programming tools used to create a software product is important for entry-level engineers. Of course, if you are applying for more experienced roles then Vishy would want you to have more extensive knowledge of these.
Just like a good copywriter (i.e. someone like me) understands their varied audiences and tweaks their style to match, a good coder also knows how to alter code writing to suit various environments.
Apart from this, Vishy places a lot of store on raw aptitude – the ability to think through first principles, conduct thought experiments, and mentally work your way through a problem.
And most of all, he values attitude. Which, as we all know, is never taught but always learned.
Question 2: What does Vishy have against resumes, really?
Resumes have also become a dumping ground for all sorts of information – both relevant and not. Imagine this scenario – a developer applies for a role and doesn’t get it. The recruiter says it’s because they lack a certain skill. We know the community talks, and when said developer narrates the story to his peers it creates a negative feedback loop among others. Candidates begin to think it’s better to create a checklist of skills on their resumes. There is, however, a stark difference between ‘knowing’ a skill just to beef up your CV, and actually being good at it.
Back in the dark ages, when technology hadn’t penetrated our lives to the extent it has now, a resume was the only tool recruiters and hiring managers had. Today, there are better ways to hire the right talent. When a candidate mentions on their resume that they ‘know’ a particular tech stack, for instance, you can use community platforms like GitHub and StackOverflow, or use an assessment platform to evaluate their expertise.
Recommended Read: A hiring manager’s guide to hiring the right developer
Question 3: Interesting, but now I’m wondering if there’s any real-life validation here. Was there ever a time when Vishy hired ‘for skill’?
Turns out, there is a strong real-life connection to everything our CTO has said. The story takes us back some years, when Vishy was working at a well-known e-commerce brand, and hiring for quality analysts. A young man from one of the smaller towns of Karnataka, India, reached out to him on LinkedIn to apply for the role.
Said man had completed his B.Sc in Computer Sciences from a small college and had been working in Bangalore as a cabbie. One day, on one of his trips, he met someone working in one of the many IT firms in the city, who gave him a dose of advice and asked him to upskill himself. Our cabbie did that, took some online courses to refresh his knowledge, and then found the courage to apply for jobs. The kindness of strangers, as they say, brought him to Vishy’s door (or interview room, rather), and needless to say, he landed the job.
I ask Vishy why he found this particular applicant perfect for the role? Weren’t there others more qualified? Of course, says he. What this ‘particular applicant’ had, however, was the zeal to learn and grow, and a passion for coding which many others didn’t.
This is also a perfect example of how technology has democratized skill-based learning. America’s Lambda School and it’s ISA model (Income Sharing Agreement) have helped many find better opportunities in the tech world.
The company’s 2020 Diversity Report states that “33.7% of Lambda School students identify as Underrepresented Minorities (URM)*, with 12.7% identifying as Black or African American, and 11.9% identifying as Hispanic or LatinX. Female students at Lambda School are slightly underrepresented relative to the tech industry as a whole (25.1% of our students identify as cisgender female, and 4.4% identify as transgender, non-binary, or two or more gender identities; the industry benchmark for women at technology companies is closer to 36%).” In a nation with a student debt of 1.6 trillion dollars, such models are proving to be extremely helpful for minority communities that do not have the ability to pay for a fancy college degree.
What this also tells me, and everyone reading this, is that tech education has undergone a radical shift. Consequently, so has the tech hiring process.
In our annual State of Developer Recruitment 2020 survey, we noticed that skill-based hiring has been gaining popularity with 21.5% of recruiters choosing this over other options. Experience is still by far the most important metric when choosing to hire someone, but skills ranking second on that list really does warm the cockles of our hearts.
Cabbie or college graduate, skills will trump pedigree every single time. As we at HackerEarth believe, the gods of good code do NOT discriminate.
There’s a lot more that Vishy and I talked about. Head on to Part 2 of this blog to know more about his thoughts on the technical education system, upskilling, and the skills versus pedigree debate.
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