How StepStone Services came up with of the best ever hackathon ideas for recruitment

StepStone Services' best ever hackathon ideas for recruitment

There are few things that developers like more than hackathons and coming up with hackathon ideas. It’s an opportunity for them to flex their proverbial muscles and do something really creative. Holding a hackathon can be a great way of promoting blue sky thinking on your tech team and generally engendering a pro developer environment at your company. Since these results align with the mission of HR departments to encourage loyalty and productivity among the company’s workforce, hackathons are a no brainer. 

In this article, we’ll be covering the following topics:

  • What is a hackathon
  • HR-focused hackathons
  • How StepStone Services improved its tech hiring with a hackathon project
  • StepStone Services’ 12 step approach to holding a coding test hackathon
  • Lessons StepStone Services learned about holding a coding test hackathon
  • Why developers loved thinking up and developing coding tests
  • Advice and takeaways you can use to hold your own coding test hackathon

What is a hackathon

Hackathon ideasA hackathon is an event that brings together software developers and other professionals involved in software development. This sprint-like event is focused on intensive collaboration on software projects and hackathon ideas with the end goal of creating a functioning product by the end of the hackathon. 

Who attends hackathons?

Hackathons are typically attended by:

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  • Software developers
  • Graphic designers
  • Interface designers
  • Project managers
  • Domain experts
  • And others

HR-focused hackathon ideas

If you are looking for hackathon ideas that can directly help tech recruitment, one of the first places you should look is coding tests. The best coding tests are ones that involve the real work that the team does. So who better to come up with a coding test then the team your developer candidates will be joining? Try turning coding tests from a feature request for your team into hackathon ideas. You’ll get a task that is much more closely aligned with the goals of the team because it’s the team that will create it. At the same time, hackathon ideas will get buy-in from the people who will be most directly affected by your hiring decision.

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret. This wasn’t our idea. It actually comes from one of our customers, StepStone Services. Luckily, Victoria Chyczewska, a Head Of Resourcing at StepStone Services was able to tell us how they turned this essential task into an exciting new way to get the best skill match possible.

Hackathon ideas

Victoria Chyczewska who gave us this idea

StepStone is a group of leading job boards operating all over the world, from Europe across Central America to Africa. All their software is developed in-house by approximately 300 developers working on IT products for 130 countries across the globe. StepStone’s Warsaw global IT Development Center, StepStone Services, supports all of its worldwide branches.

StepStone Services recruits sometimes even up to 70 and 100 IT specialists annually so you can imagine how important it is for them to systematize their tech recruitment. This means creating coding skill tests that specifically reflected the work today do. They actually chose Devskiller as an online testing tool specifically because they could write their own tests, tailored to their needs.

How StepStone Services improved its tech hiring with a hackathon project

Hackathon ideas: you're hiredFirst, StepStone Services defined their needs by creating a technical competency model. Initially, they focused on creating coding tests for recruitment and let these turn into hackathon ideas.

The next step was to choose the developers who take part. Because they wanted people who knew the work, technologies, and skills their new hires would be engaged in, they specifically picked senior developers and tech leaders to participate. In addition, they brought in their top talents to make sure the most capable people in the company were defining the skills of their new peers.

The idea was to have at least two people work on tests for each technology that StepStone Services recruits for. The technologies tested included iOS, front-end (JavaScript/React), Java, Android, PHP, Database (MySQL) development and administration, DevOps, Test automation engineering, and Big data (intern and junior level).  

With the hackathon teams in place, they were ready to get started. Before they started building their own tests for Devskiller, the first thing the developers did was look at the ready-made coding tasks already on Devskiller.

Now, with the teams in place, it was time to start the hackathon.

StepStone Services’ 12 step approach to holding a coding test hackathon

Victoria walked me through the process they took to go from idea inception to a completed coding test. She distilled it into 12 simple steps.

1. Choose the right people who are available and interested in your hackathon ideas

You want to use subject experts who have a stake in finding the right people.

2. Give them access to Devskiller to go through task library

This will give your developers a reference for the types of tasks other people use.

3. Send them a sample test to try out

Your developers will be able to see how things work from the candidate’s perspective to make their tasks more informative and user-friendly.

4. Meet for two hours (three times)

This gives your developers a chance to share ideas and avoid any duplicate effort. The developers at StepStone Services found that the same types of questions could be used across multiple tech stacks. There were also additional skills like databases that could be tested in the same way for frontend and backend.

5. List all technical skills as well as level requirements

Before starting on hackathon ideas, the group needs to agree which skills were needed for each tech stack. They then need to agree on which skills are crucial for each skill level.

6. Check through available tasks for crucial skills

Your developers should have already looked at and road-tested some coding tasks in the Devskiller platform. It is worth it to let them examine the tasks in more detail to see if there were any components they could use to avoid duplicate work.

7. Create tasks/questions

This is what we all came here for.

8. Implement the tasks in Devskiller

It is important to make sure the task you create works on the testing platform you use. Using a platform like Devskiller will allow you to automate the testing process saving recruiters and developers a ton of time.

9. Test on an outside team

Once it is in the platform, it is worth trying the test out with a team that was not part of the hackathon. Fresh eyes can give you valuable feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

10. Check with candidates

Try out the test with your candidates and listen to their feedback. Make sure the tasks are at the right level and that they provide a good candidate experience.

11. Eliminate ongoing issues (something didn’t download, used an older version of the technology)

Coding tests are mini-applications and can have unexpected bugs. It is important to keep them up to date and running, just like any other application.

12. Serve great food your devs like

Hackathon ideas from Stepstone Services

Image source: StepStone Services

This is a cool reflection of the values of the company and is an added incentive to participate.

Lessons StepStone Services learned about holding a coding test hackathon

You need to have different tasks for different skill levels

At first, StepStone Services tried creating one task per level. The idea was that Junior developers would score 0-30, on a 100pt scale, Middle-level developers 30-60, and Senior-level developers 60-100. What they found was that the low scores frustrated the junior developer candidates. Sticking to the points system also meant that a senior candidate might score low on the test but still include well-crafted lines of code which suggested senior-level skills. By writing tests for each level, these problems were eliminated.

The wording of the task could affect the skill level

Victoria said that the participants were surprised at how difficult it could be to properly judge the skill level. For instance, they found that the same task, written to be open-ended was much harder than when outcomes were defined. This added another dimension to consider when building tasks.

These discoveries were incorporated into new iterations of the hackathon. StepStone Service’s coding test hackathon ideas came from the need to create unique and targeted tests at scale. Not only did this get them the tests they needed, but they also found that developers really enjoyed the process.

Developers loved thinking up and developing coding tests

The developers at StepStone Services’ really liked participating in the coding test hackathon for a few reasons.

A team member without the right skills can hurt the whole team

A common complaint of developers is that they get stuck with the wrong teammates all the time. You can have an incredibly skilled software developer who gets hired for a project in a different tech stack than the one that they’re familiar with. In the time it takes them to be brought up to speed, the rest of the team not only has to do their own work but they have to support this new team member. This phenomenon was first explained in the seminal work on the subject, Mythical Man-Month. Despite the team now containing more people, it becomes less efficient overnight. And that’s all assuming that you have a skilled person. If the new team member simply does not have the skills for the job, that person is always going to be a drag on the overall output of the team.

As a result, the developers of StepStone Services’ liked being a part of the process of selecting the right people to join their teams.

The developers were saving their own time

The participants liked that they were online tests for candidates rather than in-person interview tasks. This meant that they wouldn’t have to spend the time they could be working on a product to interview a ton of unsuitable candidates.

Top performers felt recognized

StepStone Services made a point of choosing senior developers and top performers to participate in the hackathon. Just being asked to participate was a huge recognition of a developer’s skill. The participants responded to this positively and it motivated them to be engaged.

Advice and takeaways you can use to hold your own coding test hackathon 

Stepstone hackathon ideasImage source: StepStone Services

Hackathons are a great way to create coding tests. If you’re thinking of putting together your test, here’s some advice and takeaways that StepStone Services can give you.

Advice

  • Making hackathon ideas work well takes time and iteration
  • Hackathons are very creative and tiring
  • It is better to have a few short iterations of the hackathon rather than one long event
  • Prepare developers on how to create questions for the hackathon
  • You need to define competencies before you start
    • What is required at each level
    • Should the answer be closed or open

Takeaways

  • It was quite hard work
  • You need to make sure the participants understand the purpose of the hackathon and are available to answer their questions

Are you ready to hold your own coding test hackathon? It is a great way to come up with the best coding tests for your hiring process. Have a look at Devskiller’s coding test catalog for some inspiration and then get started.

Image credit: StepStone

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