Online Challenges, a new hiring paradigm in the software industry.
It is a well known fact that software industry is one of the biggest recruiters of fresh talent coming out of engineering colleges. However it is equally well known that 75% or more aspiring engineers do not get hired by the software companies because they lack the required skills. The competition gets stiffer when students aspire for their dream jobs.
The focus of this article is on a fast emerging trend of online competitions and challenges targeted at building a vibrant community of software professionals that thrive on challenges to learn new skills, refine them and grow. Companies are increasingly looking at these communities to source and recruit talent.
For students, online competitions provide a myriad of opportunities: a platform to learn and practice new skills, solve real-world problems sponsored by industry, compete and benchmark with fellow students, demonstrate talent, and build network with like minded people. It represents an unconventional but effective way of securing internships, scholarships, jobs and exposure to real-world issues.
For recruiters, online competitions provide opportunity to identify bright students and see them interact, communicate and complete challenges. It offers a very modern way to engage with possible future talent for their organisations. Companies can also leverage these challenges to crowdsource best solutions for their specific requirements.
In this article we will look at some of the platforms that are popular in this space such has Hackerank, Hackerearth and Codechef; and how as a fresher, you can leverage these platforms to improve your employability manifolds.
1. How you can leverage online competitions to improve your career opportunities
Learn and practice new skills. You will find challenges on these platforms that are at the level of students and allow you to learn and practice new skills. You can gradually move from simpler to more complex problems related to a concept.
Work on professional level challenges. These sites also have professional level challenges that require expertise in certain area, and could challenge you to solve tough problems from real world. These challenges could typically be sponsored by companies.
Build your profile and get noticed. You can build your profile within a community by consistently participating in online challenges, and by gradually moving up to more complex challenges. You could mention this on your LinkedIn profile, and also on resumes you may be uploading or sending to companies for internship or job.
Develop and exhibit your specialization. Identify your interest areas like big data, UX, algorithms, machine learning, angular, node.js, and ruby; and choose challenges in these areas to develop and exhibit your specialization.
Participate in challenges sponsored by companies for direct hiring opportunities – Several companies have started sponsoring challenges to identify and select talent based on these challenges.
You can even earn money- Some companies are using these sites to get specific projects done through crowdsourcing. They identify parts of the projects that can be crowdsourced and package them as professional challenges on these sites. These challenges have prize money associated with them, and the persons who win these challenges receive the prize money. This also gives you experience on real life projects being executed by companies.
Network building- You get associated with community of hackers, coders and professionals while solving the challenges. This gives you a strong platform to learn, discuss, compete and collaborate together.
2. Top Sites offering online challenges
In this section we will do a quick review of some of the popular online competition platforms.
HackerRank is one of the most popular global platforms for software developers, that offers challenges in different fields like algorithms, machine learning, and functional programming. It has over one million computer programmers registered with it. It is seen as a market leader in the growing gamification trend within competitive computer programming, and is free for coders to use.
Some of the popular contests on HackerRank include HackerRank Ad Infinitum and HackerRank Epic Code.
Other than building a vibrant community of software developers that is continuously learning and refining skills through online competitions, HackerRank also offers solutions to recruiters and colleges. Recruiters can run challenges, prescreen or shortlist candidates, and conduct online interviews. Professors can create programming assignments, students can code and test their solutions on a professional platform, assignments can be auto graded, and the system can even detect copying or plagiarism in the submissions made by students.
HackerEarth has been developed by a Bangalore based company, and has emerged as another popular platform for programmers to learn, compete and get hired. It is being increasingly used by recruiters for hiring talent. It creates contests specific to requirements of a company, whitelabels these contests, and also promotes them within their developer community. The company can shortlist candidates from a contest for subsequent rounds of selection process, thus reducing the screening efforts by a large margin.
The platform also includes HackeEarth Academy that offers tutorials and forums for programmers.
CodeChef is non profit educational initiative of Directi for aspiring programmers, that helps them build their skills through healthy competition and knowledge sharing. It is a global competitive programming platform with support for over 35 programming languages .
There are several practice contests that are available for programmers to practice and improve their skills. It also allows educational institutions or corporates to host their competitions which could be private or public.
Other than the practice contests CodeChef offers certain regular challenges:
- Monthly Contest- a monthly programming competition that has prize money and other goodies associated it.
- Codechef LunchTime- a junior programming series held on last Sunday of every month for high/senior school students.
- CodeChef SnackDown- an annual global programming contest that has several online elimination rounds before onsite final round at Mumbai.
- CodeChef Cook Off- is an ACM ICPC style programming contest held on second last Sunday of every month.
Codechef additionally offers tutorials and forums for students to learn new concepts.
TopCoder is a crowdsourcing platform that can be leveraged by companies looking for design, development and data science solutions. It is based on the “online challenge” model where a company looking for a solution to real world problem can host it as an online contest with attractive prize money. The solution(s) that are judged as best and acceptable by the moderators get the prize money, and the sponsoring company can use the solution for commercial purpose. TopCoder attracts professionals with expertise for these challenges sponsored by corporates.
Other than sponsored contests, TopCoder conducts its own contests for students and professionals round the year:
- Single Round Matches (SRMs)- TopCoder hosts fortnightly online programming competition known as SRMs or “single round matches”.
- TopCoder Open- is an annual challenge that spans across a year through multiple rounds, culminating into an “onstage” final round. The TopCoder Open is conducted in different areas like Algorithm, Design and Development. Each of these could have their own specialized tracks.
- Marathon Matches- While a number of contests offer “fixed time” to all contestants for solving a problem, TopCoder has also created Marathon Matches in an effort to provide a more flexible competition format with an extended timeline. This allows TopCoder to offer different types of problems as compared to what can be offered in a traditional “fixed time” contest.
- TopCoder Collegiate Contest- this is an annual challenge focussed at college students.
Kaggle is a crowdsourcing platform that is focussed on providing data science solutions for real world problems leveraging techniques like data mining, machine learning and predictive modeling. It again is based on “Online Challenge” model, where corporates or researchers can sponsor their problems as contests for the Kaggle community. It has partnered with organisations such as NASA, Wikipedia, Deloitte and Allstate for its competitions.
Other than featured contests sponsored by organizations, Kaggle also hosts academic contests in partnership with leading universities like Harvard, Berkeley, Oxford, Stanford and Columbia.
Kaggle also has active job board that is being used by organizations to hire data scientists.
Kaggle community comprises of 300+ thousand data scientists, a large number of whom are PhDs in quantitative fields such as computer science, statistics, econometrics, maths and physics. They also come with industry experience in fields such as insurance, finance, science, and technology. In addition to the prize money and data, the members of Kaggle community use the platform to meet, learn, network and collaborate with experts from related fields.
3. Most prestigious global online challenges for Programmers
ACM ICPC is one of the oldest and most renowned global programming competition for college students.
Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) is the world’s largest educational, scientific and professional computing society. It offers world-class publications, conferences, digital library, and other career resources. ACM offers the Turing Award, which is the most prestigious award in the field of computer science.
ACM ICPC sponsored by IBM is a multi tiered contest where teams from universities across the globe participate. A vast majority of problems appearing in ICPC contest are mathematical or logical in nature and belong to the following categories- combinatorics, number theory, graph theory, geometry, string analysis and data structures.
Some former ACM ICPC finalists have made remarkable achievements in the software industry and research. They include:
- Adam D’Angelo, the former CTO of Facebook and founder of Quora
- Nikolai Durov, the former CTO of vk.com
- Matei Zaharia, creator of Apache Spark
- Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and a venture capitalist
- Craig Silverstein, the first employee of Google.
Facebook Hackercup is an international programming competition hosted and administered by Facebook. This competition began in 2011 to identify top engineering talent for potential employment at Facebook. This competition focuses on algorithms and has five rounds of screening. The judgement is based on speed and accuracy of problem solvers.
Google Code Jam is an international programming competition hosted and administered by Google. The competition began in 2003 as a means to identify top engineering talent for potential employment at Google. The competition consists of a set of algorithmic problems which must be solved in a fixed amount of time. Competitors may use any programming language and development environment to obtain their solutions.
IEEEXterme is an annual programming challenge in which teams comprising of IEEE Student members can participate. The teams are supported by an IEEE Student Branch, and are advised and proctored by an IEEE member. The participants compete in a 24-hour time span against each other to solve a set of programming problems. It started in 2006.