Is this how all banks will hire their technology staff one day?
If you're applying for a graduate technology job at an investment bank now, you've probably been asked to do a coding test. If so, you've likely been directed to HackerRank. Founded four years ago by two Indian engineers at IBM and Amazon, it's becoming a big beast on the bank hiring circuit.
"There's been a huge surge of interest from financial services clients," says Vivek Ravisankar, HackerRank's co-founder and CEO. "It began picking up in 2015, and has been gathering pace. Financial services is now our biggest client sector, on a par with technology and internet companies in the Bay area."
HackerRank isn't the only coding site vying for financial services custom. - Rivals include Codility, HackerEarth and TopCoder. However, HackerRank's client list is testimony to its popularity in financial services. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Bloomberg, BNY Mellon and Deutsche Bank are signed-up. So too are hedge funds like Two Sigma. At Goldman Sachs, the technology graduate recruitment process has evolved so that applicants segue seamlessly from a HackerRank coding test to a Hirevue digital interview - and only get to see an actual human being if they impress in both.
What can applicants expect from banks' HackerRank challenges? Goldman's questions for the 2016 graduate hiring round were reputedly simple, involving string manipulation and dynamic programming (solving a complex problem by breaking it down into a collection of simpler sub-problems). Ravisankar agrees that West Coast technology firms pose, "deeper," algorithmic challenges than banks, but says banks are moving toward real world problems. "Six months ago, you might have been asked to devise an algorithm that could sort a set of 100 numbers in ascending order. Now you're more likely to be asked to identify and isolate problematic transactions."
You can attempt banks' HackerRank challenges without practice, but you don't have to. Ravisankar says 30% of people partaking of company-specific coding challenges on the site already belong to its community of 2.5m developers. This community competes to solve generic challenges, to achieve "badges" and to win a place on HackerRank's leader-boards. "HackerRank is a place for anyone to come along and solve challenges for fun," says Ravisankar. "You can be anonymous, or you can be yourself. We're a place for people to learn and improve their coding skills."
Ravisankar says the community is HackerRank's biggest strength. In future, he predicts banks will cherry-pick more experienced coders there: "The community is where companies can identify people who've had their skills validated. If a client asks to connect with you, you'll be able to upload your profile."
As the site evolves, Ravisankar says finance firms are already engaging it for more than just their junior technology hiring. Bloomberg already uses HackerRank to recruit 90% of its technologists at all levels.
Nor do HackerRanks' aspirations stop with engineer-identification. The company wants to own the whole hiring process. Two years ago, it launched a digital interviewing platform, CodePair, which has the potential to render face-to-face technical interviews obsolete. "The combination of an online coding challenge and an online coding interview gives banks a much better signal about the best people to hire," Ravisankar says. "HackerRank might become the industry standard."
And if you fail a HackerRank test? Are your dreams of joining Morgan Stanley shattered at the first hurdle? "Companies have different requirements," says Ravisankar. "But most will let you retake after six months."