If you’re looking to hire a bad-ass programmer, fielding résumés can start to feel like an exercise in futility. They’re good for quickly filtering out folks who are clearly applying to everything — but when everyone in the industry has some crazy made-up senior ninja/rockstar/space cadet title, when everyone considers themselves a coder, and when “Proficient with C” can mean two entirely different things based on a person’s ego, that’s about all they’re good for.
Hackermeter, part of the most recent Y Combinator class, thinks they have a better alternative: a coder score.
Hackermeter is based around the concept of coding challenges. The better you perform on each challenge, the higher your score. The higher your score, the more enticing you’ll be to a potential employer.
When you first sign up for Hackermeter, you’re given the choice: developer or employer?
As a developer, Hackermeter initially presents itself as a set of around a dozen challenges for you to pick from. On one end, you’ve got your basics: can you make a fibonacci sequence generator? Can you determine if a string is a palindrome? On the other end, you’ve got the tougher stuff: can you recursively parse a chunk of JSON to look for a very specific type of data structure? Can you test for limitations in a lightweight cryptography model?
Each challenge can be completed in one of five languages: Ruby, Python, Java, C++, or C. You type and test your code right in the browser (more on that in a second), submitting it once you feel it’s up to snuff. Once you’ve submitted a code sample that successfully tackles the challenge at hand, it goes in your portfolio, and your score changes accordingly.
As an employer, you’re able to search through the coders in Hackermeter’s database, with Hackermeter attempting to automatically pair you with developers best suited for a job. Looking for a hard-core Python expert? Filter your search to those who’ve completed the harder challenges using Python. Want an entry-level Rubyist? Disable the difficulty filter, flip on the Ruby filter, and you’ve got your list. Once you’ve found a few coders who fit the bill, you can send them messages — or, if you’re still not quite sure about their coding talents, send them a “screening.”
Screenings are sets of custom-built, rapid-fire coding challenges built by each employer. You can use Hackermeter’s pre-provided challenges, or build your own. You set the time limit, determine how many challenges (if any) can be skipped, then fire your screening off to those you’re interested in hiring.
The most obvious issue, of course, is… well, Google. If you can write a test, someone else can put the answers up online. Ta-da! With a pinch full of the Googles and a fistful of copy/paste, everyone is an expert.
But remember when I mentioned that you’re expected to write your code through Hackermeter’s built-in code editor? That’s why. Employers can play back your coding, keystroke-by-keystroke. If you dump the correct answer to the challenge into the editor in one swift paste, it’d be pretty obvious that you looked it up (or, more innocently, that you wrote it all up in your editor of choice — but you’re not supposed to be doing that.) A bit creepy? Sure — but it’s not really all that different from the live code interviews that most big companies do anyway.
At this point, I’ve got two main gripes with the site:
- Lack of coder personality: As it currently sits, the site pretty much boils people down to a name and a score. Efficient? Sure. But also kind of depressing. They could combat this a bit by letting developers provide details about who they are, and what they’re like — maybe a two-minute video introduction? Why not let developers say “Hey! While you’re here, look at this other awesome stuff I’ve built!” While they’ll almost certainly add stuff like this as the site gets built out, it’s not there yet.
- Lack of transparency: Once you’ve completed a challenge and get your score, it’s quite tough to tell why you got that score. There’s not much, if any, feedback. Hackermeter co-founder Lucas Baker tells me that it’s based on how long it took you to write the code, how efficiently the code performed, and how hard the challenge itself was. While he says that they’re working on making score explanations a bit clearer, it’s a bit of a black box right now.
Will Hackermeter kill off the résumé, or otherwise turn the entire coder-hiring process upside down? Probably not —effective or not, résumés are an institutional building block, the heartbeat of a billion HR departments (and beyond the résumé, the best coders are often hired through very well-paid referrals and cut-throat poaching). But it’s an interesting approach, and with good developers being harder and harder to find — and more expensive to hire — every day, one that I’d imagine many companies would be willing to try. And if you’re a developer who can’t find a job, putting your face and skill set in front of more employers is never a bad thing.
Hackermeter is free to developers, with would-be employers paying a commission per hire.