Byteboard nabs $5M seed to change the way engineers get hired

Byteboard founders Sargun Kaur and Nikke Hardson-Hurley were working at Google when they recognized a fundamental problem with the way engineers were being hired. They saw a process of obscure algorithms, and those with access to the content could (and usually would) study it for months. They thought engineers should be judged by their ability to code and do the job on a daily basis, so they started a company to create a different kind of engineering job interview.

Today, Byteboard announced a $5 million seed round led by Cowboy Ventures along with a diverse set of angel investors, with half being women and more than a third Black. The investor funds are similarly diverse, with 84% led by a woman managing partner and 57% BIPOC-led (Black, Indigenous, person of color).

The two founders met at an internal hackathon at Google, bonded over their shared experience around technical interviews, and decided to do something about it. As two women of color, they saw people from historically underrepresented groups facing an unfair disadvantage in this process, which favored people who had the means to access the prep materials (not unlike SAT prep courses in high school).

“Byteboard is a software-based solution that’s actually helping companies replace their pre-on-site technical interviews with a project-based interview that helps them hire faster through a much more positive, streamlined, practical interview process,” Kaur told me.

She explained that the traditional interview process was designed by Big Tech companies like Google and Microsoft to hire Ph.D. computer science candidates from Stanford, but in her view, the industry has changed, and the interview process hasn’t kept up.

“It’s a very broken interview process, and it disproportionately impacts people that look like me and look like my co-founder, Nikke. It’s very easy to be discouraged by this interview process. And this kind of leads into kind of why we started Byteboard,” she explained. They wanted to shift that process from the theoretical to the practical, where people showed off their coding skills.

As Kaur put it, when an NBA team is evaluating a basketball player, the coaches don’t have him outline plays on a whiteboard in the locker room. They have him make plays in the gym. She said it’s a similar dynamic in engineering interviews, and Byteboard is designed to be the gym.

The duo began building the idea into a product while still at Google, working together in the Google in-house incubator called Area 120. As Kaur explained, the purpose of this incubator is typically to build something that will be used in-house to improve internal processes. Companies are not usually spun out, but Byteboard was an exception.

Kaur said the company has designed an interview that the hiring manager gives to candidates to do on their own time in the environment where they are most comfortable working. She said the key to these tests is that they measure the skills and abilities needed to do the job.

“That candidate will take the Byteboard interview, and it’s like working through a project. It very much simulates the day in the life of an engineer. You’re not being pulled into obscure algorithms,” she explained. “We tell candidates: You should not have to study for this interview. If you are studying for this interview, you’re studying to be a better software engineer, not to perform better in the interview.”

In addition to changing the evaluation methods, Byteboard anonymizes the data that goes back to the hiring managers in an effort to further reduce bias. They are just looking at the skills and abilities, without knowing anything more about what this person looks like until they get to an in-person interview.

It’s early days for Byteboard, with just eight employees so far, but Kaur said that she and Hardson-Hurley want to build a company that reflects the people they are trying to reach. “It’s really important to Nikke and me to build a team that looks like the community we are serving. And we are seeing that representation both in our cap table [and our employees], which [is something] we have been super intentional about.”

The company’s early customers include Figma, Lyft and Webflow. Kaur said that research has shown that these companies are seeing results with Byteboard’s approach by reducing the time to offer, saving the engineering team hundreds of hours spent in the old-style technical interview and ultimately building more diverse engineering teams.