On March 4, 2021, Vishwastam Shukla, Chief Technology Officer of HackerEarth, joined Simplilearn to talk about how hiring changed in 2020 and what both recruiters and job seekers should keep in mind in 2021.
Vishy has 14 years of work experience, including seven years at Amazon. He started out at Amazon as an engineer and ended as a Site Leader for one of its US locations. He then spent seven years leading technology teams at various B2B SaaS startups.
Vishy doesn’t think the nature of tech jobs has changed over the past year, but the number of those jobs has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because a lot of economic activity was forced to move online, companies found they had a greater need for tech talent. That was true across all categories of companies, from multinationals to startups. HackerEarth has seen its activity increase three to four times over the pre-pandemic volume.
Organizations are increasingly looking for deeper technical skills and more on-the-job experience. Previously, companies might have expected and planned to train new hires in some required skills, but now companies seek candidates who can contribute from the day they are hired. This change has led companies to modify how they express their job requirements.
The good news for job seekers is that Vishy says there is no dearth of opportunities in technical roles. That makes things harder for those seeking to hire technical talent because there is more competition for highly qualified candidates. Emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, and big data may seem like they could displace other tech jobs. Still, Vishy sees them as creating a new set of opportunities that increase the total need for tech professionals.
HackerEarth helps to address the imbalance between supply and demand of skilled technical professionals in three ways:
Five million members of the Indian software developer community engage with HackerEarth in hackathons and practice sessions.
Sponsored Challenges and Hackathons.
Corporations and organizations sponsor hackathons and technical challenges through HackerEarth to engage with the developer community. The organizations use these events to raise awareness among developers, evangelize their technologies to the developer community, and even advance a social cause. For example, a recent hackathon sponsored by the United Nations focused on creating ways to improve technology accessibility for the elderly.
Companies use the HackerEarth platform to assess the technical skills of candidates. HackerEarth administers assessment tests and questionnaires to candidates, and companies use the results to identify the most suitable candidates.
Job seekers need a way to signal to potential employers about the skills they can offer. Recruiters must read these signals and interpret them to find the best-fitting candidates from the pool of job seekers. This signaling problem poses a challenge for job seekers and recruiters alike.
Traditionally, the primary vehicle for skill signaling was the resume. A resume can be inefficient and even misleading, as candidates often dumped many skills in their resumes - including ones they were not confident in - to get noticed by recruiters.
As the ecosystem evolved, everyone started using LinkedIn. This shift made the information in resumes more accessible, but it was still the same information. LinkedIn does add some supplemental information about candidates in the form of their blogs and posts and their recommendations from other LinkedIn members, but the core of the resume information was unchanged.
Key components of this information are educational history and work experience. These are proxies for skills, not direct measurements of skills. A recruiter may assume that a particular degree or job requires proficiency in a particular skill, but it isn’t necessarily proof of proficiency.
For software developers, skill signaling has evolved. Now candidates can provide direct evidence of proficiency through:
- Contributions to open source software projects
- Portfolio of projects in a GitHub repository
- Participation in hackathons
- Activity on coding platforms
Contributions to open source projects demonstrate that the candidate is familiar with software development in a team environment. A GitHub profile provides a portfolio of projects that demonstrate specific skills, and the timeline of additions to the repository shows the consistency of practice. Hackathons show the exercise of skills in an interactive and time-bound environment. Activity on coding platforms (such as HackerEarth) is one of Vishy’s favorite signals: it demonstrates a candidate’s curiosity and drive to learn. While candidates still need the traditional signaling tools of the resume and LinkedIn profile, they need to supplement them with the newer and more direct skill signaling modes.
Key Skills for Developers
Recruiters look for a mix of certain basic skills to qualify candidates. The best candidates will have a balance of these abilities.
The first of these is problem solving. The ability to solve problems is an indicator of aptitude. How a candidate solves a problem can be more important than whether the candidate gets to the correct answer. For example, a thought experiment like “How many people commute on the Delhi Metro every day” will show what aspects of the problem the candidate considers and how they arrive at educated guesses. The recruiter will want to see that the candidate keeps at the problem and doesn’t get stuck or frustrated in the process.
The second is an understanding of basic data structures and algorithms. Having a solid grounding in these basics shows that you have the tools to work on development problems.
The third is high- and low-level design. The candidate should be able to demonstrate an understanding of system architectures and the structure of applications.
The fourth is the ability to detect what Vishy calls “bad smells” in code. The developer should be able to look at software code and recognize whether it has deficiencies or poor execution.
Vishy recommends that technology professionals upskill with “relentless aggression.” They should always be engaged in building their skills through education, training, and practice. Since technology constantly evolves, technology professionals have to strive to keep up.
Technology professionals need to approach learning from the top down and the bottom up. The top-down approach looks at the entire system or skill set you want to learn and breaks it down into constituent parts to be studied. The bottom-up approach is to acquire particular skills and tools to assemble them into a cohesive toolkit for solving problems over time. Often a person will follow a top-down path, then focus on the bottom level of that path, and start a bottom-up path from there. That can repeat as a continuous learning cycle.
Vishy recommends using online tools to learn, practice, and benchmark yourself. There are many online resources that allow you to learn new skills, exercise those skills to gain proficiency, and compare your proficiency against a wider community.
Beyond technical skills, a technology professional has much broader opportunities to move into leadership roles if they acquire strong communication skills. Another driver of career advancement is attitude, especially a sense of ownership, a hunger for excellence, and customer obsession.
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Use Technology for Hiring
Finally, Vishy discussed how recruiters can take advantage of technology. Hiring good engineers and developers quickly is incredibly competitive and getting more so. Technology allows recruiters to cast a wider net than ever before. Platforms like HackerEarth enable recruiters to screen thousands of candidates in less time than reading a hundred resumes.
Vishy advises that objective hiring is effective hiring. Refining job requirements and desired skills to objective criteria enables automated tools to make accurate screening decisions instead of having to rely on unreliable proxies for skills.
If you are a technology professional ready to act on Vishy’s advice about relentless upskilling, you can start with Simplilearn. We offer a range of courses in software development, up to and including comprehensive programs like the Post Graduate Program in Full Stack Web Development in collaboration with Caltech CTME. These certification courses give you the foundation you need to pursue the practice and benchmarking aspects of your continuous upskilling and your career growth.