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Hackathon Gold: How To Win a Job Offer In a Coding Competition

samzenpus posted about 7 months ago | from the show-them-what-you-got dept.

Businesses 25

itwbennett (1594911) writes "Hackathons have stirred up their share of controversy — mostly around too-big prizes and the inevitable cheating that follows. But for some developers they also can be the ultimate job interview — not just a coding test, but an opportunity to show off your people skills. Take the case of the January 2014 GlobalHack contest in St. Louis that was initially attended by several hundred programmers. The story of the contest isn't who took away the top $50,000 prize but about the other participants who didn't finish in the money but came away with something else that is arguably more important."

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Simple (1)

The Cat (19816) | about 7 months ago | (#46656261)

Be from Asia and willing to work weekends perpetually for half pay.

just stay away from AngelHack please (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46656275)

because this d.bag runs it:

http://valleywag.gawker.com/ha... [gawker.com]

Re:just stay away from AngelHack please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46657529)

because this d.bag runs it:

http://valleywag.gawker.com/ha... [gawker.com]

Gawker is a perfect fit for a story about him then, d.bags writing about d.bags.

If you can win a coding competition (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46656403)

You can start your own company and make way more money than they'll ever pay you.

Re:If you can win a coding competition (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46656777)

Being a great code monkey does not mean you'll be great at running a company.

+1 that's me. (or want to run one, w/ 10 taxes) (3, Insightful)

raymorris (2726007) | about 7 months ago | (#46658105)

That's me. I'm not good at running a company, though I've run a few during the 16 years I ran them. I also don't LIKE running a company, filing taxes every month and all that. You've got employment taxes four times a year, state franchise tax, income tax, sales tax, business personal property tax in the county where the office is, business personal property tax where the servers are, managing group heath insurance - holy shit wtf is Obama doing today, unemployment tax, worker's comp ...

Being an employer in the US takes about 30 hours per week. The other twenty hours are left to manage the business - strategy, cash flow, manage the employees, etc. If I was lucky, I'd be able to code for five hours in a week.

That's unfortunate, because I really enjoy STARTING a business. Moving from being just one person to big enough to hire a full or half time accountant and full or half time HR person is REALLY difficult, though.

While I'm not that good at running a business, most people who know me say I'm really, really good at software systems design. I never did any real marketing - I didn't know how. My companies stayed afloat only because the product was clearly best in class.

Now, I'm rather enjoying NOT running a company. I just code all day. Some lady down the hall deals with insurance companies and studies Obamacare changes all day. Several people around the corner take care of the various taxes. I just build cool software and I like it.

(Is it a problem if we need more people dedicated to taxes and other government forms than we have programmers, marketing people, or customer support staff?)

Re:+1 that's me. (or want to run one, w/ 10 taxes) (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 7 months ago | (#46660355)

(Is it a problem if we need more people dedicated to taxes and other government forms than we have programmers, marketing people, or customer support staff?)

Unemployment hovers around 7-8% today, what would it be if taxes were so simple that they "did themselves" with 20 hours a YEAR of effort per business?

If the U.S. wants to become more competitive in the global economy, we might consider streamlining the tax code. Unfortunately, I think we're all more interested in pork projects for our local area than anything as lofty as global competitiveness.

Re:+1 that's me. (or want to run one, w/ 10 taxes) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46660659)

Unemployment hovers around 7-8% today, what would it be if taxes were so simple that they "did themselves" with 20 hours a YEAR of effort per business?

Higher, because all the accountants would be out of business.

Re:+1 that's me. (or want to run one, w/ 10 taxes) (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46661105)

That's unfortunate, because I really enjoy STARTING a business. Moving from being just one person to big enough to hire a full or half time accountant and full or half time HR person is REALLY difficult, though.

It's really sad how soon in the process you actually have to hire HR and accounting........

Re:If you can win a coding competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46662117)

Better than being an illiterate stooge that can't code when the product IS that.

Google Code Jam (2)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about 7 months ago | (#46656449)

Another famous coding competition of interest, Google Code Jam [google.com] is about to start... (registration ends in a week),

Re:Google Code Jam (4, Interesting)

JMZero (449047) | about 7 months ago | (#46656775)

Google Code Jam is a really super excellent way to get into algorithm programming competitions, at least in North American. The serious competitors are pretty thin on the ground here (or at least they have been in past years) so with a bit of commitment, some programming experience, and a little luck, getting to the on site rounds is very achievable.

It's especially a great opportunity if you're interested in working at Google - doing well will definitely attract their attention.

It's also one of the most approachable competition formats; it's very "approach agnostic", and doesn't focus on anything too obscure in terms of required knowledge or skills. The time bounds are loose enough that you don't have to worry about things like "reading from a file efficiently". The initial rounds usually just test whether you can do basic programming. The test cases they supply do a good job of making sure you get things like formatting right - meaning you get to focus on the actual problem instead of goofy side issues.

Very well run contest, and lots of fun even if you're not a real expert.

Re:Google Code Jam (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about 7 months ago | (#46672385)

Just looked at some of the questions and they look mostly like standard read input and spit out an optimization answer. As someone else said on Slashdot years ago, the problem with such puzzlers is they select for people who like solving complex tasks, not for people who like avoiding such tasks and like helping others avoid them (as in people full of diligently applied hard-working laziness). For a company like Google that supposedly prides itself on making easy to use software, this would seem to indicate they generally are hiring the wrong sort of person (as much as the world and/or Google needs some great algorithm designers and implementers). What about the skills to know what is a good question to ask? Of course, our entire mainstream pipeline of schooling engineers and scientists has that sort of problem...

Related by the then Vice-Provost of Caltech, David Goodstein:
http://www.its.caltech.edu/~dg... [caltech.edu]
"I would like to propose a different and more illuminating metaphor for American science education. It is more like a mining and sorting operation, designed to cast aside most of the mass of common human debris, but at the same time to discover and rescue diamonds in the rough, that are capable of being cleaned and cut and polished into glittering gems, just like us, the existing scientists. It takes only a little reflection to see how much more this model accounts for than the pipeline does. It accounts for exponential growth, since it takes scientists to identify prospective scientists. It accounts for the very real problem that women and minorities are woefully underrepresented among the scientists, because it is hard for us, white, male scientists to perceive that once they are cleaned and cut and polished, they will look like us. It accounts for the fact that science education is for the most part a dreary business, a burden to student and teacher alike at all levels of American education, until the magic moment when a teacher recognizes a potential peer, at which point it becomes exhilarating and successful. Above all, it resolves the paradox of Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates. It explains why we have the best scientists and the most poorly educated students in the world. It is because our entire system of education is designed to produce precisely that result."

See also: http://books.google.com/books/... [google.com]
"In this landmark book, Scott Page redefines the way we understand ourselves in relation to one another. "The Difference" is about how we think in groups--and how our collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts. Why can teams of people find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the very qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity--not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities.
    "The Difference" reveals that progress and innovation may depend less on lone thinkers with enormous IQs than on diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality. Page shows how groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity yields superior outcomes, and Page proves it using his own cutting-edge research. Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, he explains why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you're talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory. He examines practical ways to apply diversity's logic to a host of problems, and along the way offers fascinating and surprising examples, from the redesign of the Chicago "El" to the truth about where we store our ketchup.
  Page changes the way we understand diversity--how to harness its untapped potential, how to understand and avoid its traps, and how we can leverage our differences for the benefit of all."

"You get what you measure." Google's hiring model focusing on puzzlers etc. in some sense is filtering out various kinds of diversity... Such as those who focus more on stories or feelings than algorithms or numbers, those more interested in psychology than technology, those who are older and more interested in customer service than impressing potential customers, and so on... I'm not saying hiring is easy; it isn't. Google may even do a better job than most in some areas. But overall, it seems a narrow way to select the people who are creating much of our future information technology infrastructure at all levels (including, implicitly, civic aspects). For example, the San Francisco busing conflict is maybe a symptom of some deeper issue in terms of not being able to foresee it and prevent it...

Uhhh... (1)

JMZero (449047) | about 7 months ago | (#46672609)

It isn't like Code Jam is their main stream of employee finding, and in general their engineer interviews are less puzzly than they used to be.

Google has a broad variety of problems that need solving, including a lot of problems where understanding algorithms is tremendously important. If anything Code Jam allows Google to cast a broader, more inclusive, fairer net - giving opportunities to people to shine who don't have a degree from MIT education or who don't fit the average software developer mold.

Yeah, right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46657261)

As if a job offer is something the celebrate.

if you're 1 of the 83% who already have a job. 20 (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 7 months ago | (#46658131)

Maybe if you're among the 80% of working age Americans who has a job, a new one isn't a big deal. Well, unless you're one of the 13% under-employed, a programmer checking groceries at Walmart. If you are among the 17% who are either struggling to find work or have given up hope and stopped even trying, a programming job that will pay your family's bills could be a very big deal indeed.

Re:if you're 1 of the 83% who already have a job. (1)

ranton (36917) | about 7 months ago | (#46658457)

Maybe if you're among the 80% of working age Americans who has a job, a new one isn't a big deal. Well, unless you're one of the 13% under-employed, a programmer checking groceries at Walmart. If you are among the 17% who are either struggling to find work or have given up hope and stopped even trying, a programming job that will pay your family's bills could be a very big deal indeed.

While I think any job offer good enough to take is something to celebrate, it is unlikely that anyone receiving a job offer in this kind of competition is unemployed (unless by choice). The purpose of this hackathon was to find top talent, and top talent never has a hard time finding work. The two people offered a job in the article both had jobs, and it apparently took very good offers to get them to choose to work for TopOpps. This wasn't a situation where some college kids down on their luck finally found work.

The original poster's sarcasm is still misguided though. While obviously exact salaries were not given it does look like both of the offers were amazing. I have had two offers that I couldn't refuse in my career (like Cummings in the article said about his offer), and both of them were more than good enough to celebrate. Lets just hope they didn't just take good stock options. I don't know anything about the founder other than what is in the articles I read about this story, but it looks like a bad sign that when they talk about Eberlin's credentials they only mention how much venture capital funding he has been able to raise instead of talking about his past company's actual success.

not for the job (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46657497)

Hackathons are great, but there are easier ways to find jobs.

Re:not for the job (2)

pla (258480) | about 7 months ago | (#46657711)

Hackathons are great, but there are easier ways to find jobs.

No, actually, I would very much have to disagree with that.

I got my first job out of HS (over two decades past, now) in a "hackathon" for a scholarship with a bonus summer internship (which evolved into a "real" job once I graduated, though I earned that part, it didn't come as part of the package).

Although I eventually moved beyond that job, I have honestly never gotten another job that easily since then. And suffice it to say, having won that scholarship and internship, I have a reasonably impressive resume.

If you can actually code well, "hackathon" style contests let you prove it, simple as that. No stupid psych questions that HR forces interviewers to ask, no stress on whether to dress up or down to "fit" to corporate climate at your target company, no "you match our listing perfectly but we really meant to hire someone internally and just posted the ad to meet funding-requirement-X". Just show off your skills, and call it good.

If, however, you can kinda sorta do some things with computers at your Uncle's company... Don't bother, and invest in a better suit..

Re:not for the job (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46658167)

That's a nice anecdote, but I'd have to agree with the parent. First of all, jobs available through hackathons must be several orders or magnitude less numerous than jobs available via other means. Second, the process of going through an interview to get a job is not that difficult. Throw on a suit and answer some questions. You may not get an offer from every interview, but you won't win every hackathon either.

I don't think there's anything wrong with hackathons, but I don't think your view meshes well with reality.

Re:not for the job (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46660569)

I would have to agree with you and the grandparent as well. My first professional paid job was in 1983, now more than 30 years ago. My first real computer job unpaid was in 1981 working with the church that my mother went to when they got their first CPM machine.

I got my first paid job from someone who went to the church that saw the computer originally as a toy, to something that would possibly be a business machine. He had HP computers they were using to hopefully design parts for machines.

Throughout the 80's it was a fake it to you make it because personal computers was not being taught in college, nor was BASIC or Turbo Pascal, the major compilers of the day.

I've never had a problem finding a job as in every interview I went to they offered me the job up until 2002. For several years it was tough for everyone.

I'm not the best programmer out there even though I have more than 3 decades of experience. But, what always gets me the job is projecting confidence and a suit and tie.

I've recently changed job and I only put 10 years of history on my Resume. I didn't even put anything on my Resume about College. I was never asked.

If you look like you can do the job and tell everyone that you interview with that you want the job... and dressed really nice even though everyone else is in jeans, more than likely you will be offered the job.

Speaking of coding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46657619)

I demand all javascript be removed from the interwebs!
We must continue this noble cause! Javascript creates hate!
mwah ha ha ha

What's up with that last cornball sentence? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46657925)

. . . but about the other participants who didn't finish in the money but came away with something else that is arguably more important.

I think I know what it is. After going on your life-changing journey, you now realize you don't want what you thought you wanted. What you really wanted was inside you all along.

Monkey-a-thons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46659907)

Creativity doesn't work in pressure-cooker environments, and these contests don't attract the kind of deep, insightful, creative types you want to architect your software.

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