One could argue convincingly that education is more accessible than ever, thanks to the many free online learning platforms that exist today. This democratization of education is driving tremendous shifts in the labor market – especially among coders, developers, and software engineers.
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"Twenty years ago, to be an amazing engineer, you probably had to have a good pedigree, because the only way you could learn software engineering was to work with someone who knew it well or to go to a top school where professors could teach you," says Tigran Sloyan, CEO of CodeFights. "Nowadays, as access to information becomes a more level playing field, you see people from all around the world and from many different backgrounds gaining this crucial skill."
Unfortunately, recruiters and employers haven't kept up with these developments. Instead, they're stuck in the past, fixated on pedigrees when it comes time to assess tech talent.
"The reality that we live in is that most companies do not have anything but pedigree to rely on," Sloyan says. "If you try to make your way through traditional channels like a LinkedIn account, a resume, or submitting applications, you usually don't get any attention [unless you have an elite degree]."
This isn't just a problem for tech workers who are unfairly counted out based on their educational circumstances instead of their skill sets. The organizations perpetuating this recruitment method are shooting themselves in the foot: By obsessing over pedigree above all else, these companies are willfully ignoring wide swaths of the talent pool.
A Skills-Based 'Revolution' in Tech Recruiting
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To be fair, some recruiters and employers have recognized that tech candidates' skills are way more important than their alma maters. These organizations organize hackathons, contests, and other challenges in order to go beyond resumes and suss out great engineers, developers, and programers.
Sloyan encourages tech workers to gravitate toward these companies because their hiring processes give candidates a fairer shot at earning employment. For those who may be thinking they can convince credential-focused employers to hear them out, Sloyan has words of caution.
"The problem is that you'll never get that chance to convince them [to look beyond your resume]," he says. "If they don't already have it in their process, you don't have a channel to do that."
And besides – Sloyan says convincing employers to get with the times is his job. After all, that's what he founded CodeFights for.
"Essentially, the revolution we are trying to lead in terms of moving the recruiting industry from being pedigree-based to skills-based is around changing that mindset in all companies," he explains. "We consider it our job to go to every single company out there and convince them there is a better way than just looking at resumes."
CodeFights aims to be one of those "better ways." The platform gives people a place to practice their programming skills while comparing themselves against other talent in the industry. This allows coders, developers, and engineers to get an idea of where they stand in the labor market and the kinds of jobs they can expect.
But users of CodeFights aren't simply sharpening their skills – they're also proving their value to potential employers. By completing games and challenges on CodeFights, candidates demonstrate the concrete technical skills they possess. CodeFights then matches talented programmers with employers and recruiters whose open roles match a programmer's experience level and skill set. Pedigree never enters the equation.
Practicing for Tricky Tech Interviews
Aside from focusing on pedigree to an arguably unhealthy degree, many employers deploy another common tactic in their tech hiring processes: Asking deep, theoretical questions about computer science.
Sloyan says the trend started with Google in the early 2000s.
"They decided that people who tend to perform better inside Google usually have very, very good computer science fundamentals," he says. "So they started asking interview questions around really deep computer science concepts like algorithms and data structures."
Unlike overemphasizing credentials, this isn't necessarily a flaw in the recruiting and hiring process. Employers are smart to test candidates' knowledge of computer science as a discipline.
The trouble, though, is that few engineers have the opportunity to exercise this knowledge in their day-to-day lives. As a result, their theory gets a little rusty – which can spell disaster in an interview.
"One of the things we kept hearing from engineers whom we helped go to companies is that if you haven't been doing these sorts of technical interviews for a long time, you may be surprised by the types of questions you get asked," Sloyan says. "What happens is, as a software engineer who could have many years of experience and be great at your job, you could enter a technical interview and get hit by these more theoretical questions and be very surprised because you didn't practice for it."
To solve this problem, CodeFights has added an interview practice module to its platform.
"We crowdsourced a list of questions that companies have asked based on our community, and we've aggregated them and grouped them into per-company and per-topic categories," Sloyan explains.
This allows engineers to get a feel for the kinds of questions they may face at a particular employer, and it also helps them figure out where they should brush up on their computer science knowledge.