HackerEarth Screens Developer Candidates For Startups Through Programming Challenges

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The hunt for great engineering talent is global. It’s not just in Silicon Valley that the competition is so fierce that there are even agents or auctions for developers.

It’s true in India too, where multi-nationals and emerging startups headhunt for the best engineers. HackerEarth, a startup out of the GSF India accelerator, is looking to make the process of assessing technical talent easier through programming challenges.

On the flipside, the startup is also looking to help fresh engineering graduates and more experienced developers become better acquainted with growth-stage startups in India. Over there, startups don’t quite have the same glamour than they do in the U.S. as college grads feel cultural pressure to find jobs at multi-national companies.

“Engineers are hugely in demand here in India. There’s a shortage of talent and yet, people don’t know what kinds of opportunities they have,” said co-founder Sachin Gupta, who left Google to start the company. “They often end up working for service companies like Wipro and Infosys. It’s quite different from the Valley, where you’re exposed to startups all the time.”

Gupta said HackerEarth has built an online engine that does real-time evaluation of technical skills from programming challenges and problem sets. They either design challenges in-house on skills like front-end development or hire freelancers and professors to design them. Since launch about five months ago, the company has processed about 200,000 code compilations and has registered 20,000 developers on the platform. Of those, about 7 to 8,000 are active.

They check for basics like the logic of the programming work — whether it produces the right output given certain inputs. Then they also look at run-time, memory usage and code size.

“With resumes and traditional sourcing methods, you might end up with thousands of CVs and everyone will say they’re a Java engineer or Python engineer. But are they really?” Gupta said. “We very strongly believe if you know something, you should be able to prove it. Because of all this noise, the conversion rates are very low on these traditional recruiting techniques.”

The company has two models. They either source the candidates, assess them and then directly connect them to companies, earning a recruiting fee. Or they have an enterprise SaaS model, where they provide their assessment engine to companies that are hiring for a fee. They charge about $2 per test taken or about 40,000 Indian rupees (or $740) per hire.

HackerEarth has three full-time people and is backed with seed funding from GSF India, which is positioning itself as a TechStars or Y Combinator for India.

They face off against competitors like YC-backed InterviewStreet, which has CodeSprints or competitions on behalf of employers.

Gupta said that HackerEarth is a bit different. “We’re structuring our platform as a job or talent discovery platform,” he said. “They have kind of pivoted toward a hacker ranking system. We are very clearly a place where people can first discover great companies to work at.”

He added that the Indian market for talent is much more fractured than it is in the U.S., where developers might congregate on Y Combinator’s Hacker News or here on TechCrunch. In contrast, he said recruiters have to foster much closer relationships with college campuses around the country.

“Online media penetration is low and there’s definitely a communication gap. We have to actively reach out to college students,” Gupta said. “Even me — I didn’t know about InMobi before coming to Bangalore.” (The mobile advertising network, InMobi, is one of the flagship startups out of the Indian ecosystem and has gotten around $216 million in funding from investors like Japan’s SoftBank and Kleiner Perkins.)