Kings Of Coding

HackerEarth's coding challenges expand the talent pool for tech hiring and make the process more meritocratic.
 Venkatesha Babu        Print Edition: June 21, 2015
HackerEarth founders Sachin Gupta (left) and Vivek Prakash
HackerEarth founders Sachin Gupta (left) and Vivek Prakash (Photo: Nilotpal Baruah)

THREE-YEAR-OLD START-UPS: RANK 4

Like many other start-ups, HackerEarth, too, was conceived in a college dorm room. That probably explains the hostel-like atmosphere at its Koramangala office in Bangalore. The office is located on the top floor of an electronics godown. It has bare bones furniture and no air-conditioning. But that doesn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of its founders and other team members.

Co-founder and CEO Sachin Gupta sits bang in the middle of the single large room. His more diffident co-founder, Vivek Prakash, sits at the extreme end of the room. There is a lot of banter among the team members and the average age seems to be in the low-20s. Employees and visitors alike swig coffee from paper cups, and a Foosball table near the entrance adds to the tone of the place.

Gupta and Prakash met at IIT Roorkee; the former was in a four-year programme while the latter was pursuing a five-year course. Their common interest in coding brought them together. Gupta, the more articulate of the two, explains HackerEarth's genesis during his batch's placement season in 2011. "We had a brilliant batch mate. All of us assumed he would be placed on day zero. Unfortunately, a week into the placement process, he had yet to get an offer. While reflecting on the process, we realised it was subjective and not driven by data. Recruiters only screened for some keywords. We wanted to make the process transparent and meritocratic rather than based on the school/college you went to," says Gupta, who was picked up by Google from the campus.

The duo initially started a website for people to ask questions and share recruitment-related issues. Gupta worked for a brief while with Google, which he says helped him "network with the right crowd". Vivek, who says he "is a programmer by heart", continued his studies. When the website started getting traction, they realised it could be converted into a business opportunity to help companies recruit better, faster and cheaper. After talking to a host of recruiters, they found that the pain point in recruiting technical talent in India was the screening process. "You advertise for one Java position, there are 100 resumes. How do you screen them effectively?" was a question they had to confront.

That is when Gupta and Prakash came up with the idea of putting up programming challenges. The challenges are set up by expert freelancers or companies looking to hire talent. Anybody could take part in the challenge. What this also did was help companies tap into talent from smaller cities and colleges they typically don't visit for hiring. "It expanded the talent pool," says Prakash, who is also HackerEarth's CTO. "Programming talent has no pedigree of college or school. If I can weed those 100 resumes to six or seven who crack the challenge, then the recruiter can focus more on getting a better fit."

Indresh Gahoi is one such beneficiary of HackerEarth's move to make hiring more meritocratic. The graduate of Madan Mohan Malaviya Engineering College, Gorakhpur, says HackerEarth's coding challenges prepared him well for interviews and helped him get a job with Druva Data Solutions in Pune. HackerEarth's corporate clients, which includes companies like Wipro and Adobe, also feel this method of recruiting is better. "Our partnership with HackerEarth helped us hire some top-notch coding talent," says Asha Poluru, Chief People Officer at US-based tech company Altimetrik.

Gupta says their placement percentage at 20 per cent is among the highest in India. Unlike conventional recruitment agencies, which charge between eight and 15 per cent of a position's annual package as fee, HackerEarth has a flat-fee model based on the annual package. The company estimates the market size it can tap into is roughly $2.3 billion, based on the total business done by technology-aided recruitment companies. This accounts for only 18 per cent of the total recruitment industry in India. The company's revenue has soared 10 times in the last one year, says Gupta, without disclosing the numbers. "We had one salesperson last year. We now have seven and we are adding four more," he adds.

In February last year, AngelPrime Partners invested $500,000 in the company. "HackerEarth is an explosive combination of outstanding entrepreneurs pursuing a monster opportunity," says Shripati Acharya, Managing Partner at AngelPrime. "We see huge potential in HackerEarth to disrupt technical recruiting with a powerful community-driven, skill-based approach."

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