Friday, January 15, 2016

Hackathon and New Way of Hiring

I’ve been very busy the past 6 months. I was juggling between my work at Cisco, my personal activities in Indonesia, SDN warriors group, my MBA final semester, traveling, my SDN & NFV skill transformation, family issues, and all other tasks. I don’t believe in multi-tasking, so what I did was actually task-switching. Make priority list of all the tasks, keep switching from one task to another, re-prioritize the list, continue switching and so on. And unfortunately updating this blog was never the top priority in the list.

Anyway, during August 2015 I was leading my team to host SDN Hackathon event in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was 3-day event, started with 8-hour SDN Workshop to explain the technology from the architecture, SDN & NFV use cases in real world, up to the discussion about the skills we must develop to become Network Programmability Engineer and Network DevOps. The Hackathon happened after the workshop where we challenge group of students for 30 hours straight to develop SDN solution ground-up, from setting up physical network infrastructure, virtual infrastructure, all the way to workflow automation to provision network services using Web User Interface.

I won’t talk in detail about the event. It’s been a while so I don’t even remember many things that happened anymore. But I know for sure that it was the first SDN Hackathon ever in Indonesia. And I think it was the first SDN Hackathon in the world that asks to build SDN solution to perform end-to-end network services provisioning. So one magic button on the web interface can start the VM in OpenStack compute, configure the VM until it can provide Internet service, monitor the VM lifecycle, at the same time auto configure all the physical and virtual network, and deploy the network policy such as Access Control List and QoS. Fully automated and no human interaction during the process. It was an interesting experience and to my surprise the students were doing well, even they didn’t know much about SDN before the event, and half of the group was able to finish the challenge.

I did several presentations to explain about SDN solution during the workshop, then I watched the students closely during the 30 hours Hackathon. Most of them didn’t sleep. We provided all the food and drink for free, but no one seems to enjoy it. Everyone was busy. Busy discussing the technical solution. Busy coding. Busy modifying config files in Linux. Everyone was so focus to answer the list of challenges within the time limit.

Then it struck me. This kind of event is actually a perfect place to find good candidates to get hired by companies. And I will tell you why:

1. They have to work under pressure
To work on new and difficult task in 30 hours non-stop, obviously provide lots of pressure to every candidate. Only the strong survives

2. They have to solve non-familiar challenge
Almost all of them came to the event with a very little background about SDN. Yes we tried to help by explaining the solution during the workshop prior to the Hackathon, but it can still be considered an alien task

3. They have to work with strangers
We mixed the students to avoid one group with members from the same school. So they have to work with strangers to solve hard challenge within short time

4. Their communication skill is still crucial
It’s important for them to communicate within the team, and at the end of the event we also asked them to present their work, along with the thought process

5. Their unique ability will rise
We witnessed several candidates that show their leadership skill to lead the discussion or even to lead the team to tackle the challenge

Instead of taking CV and call the candidate one by one, by hosting one Hackathon event I would be able to get several good candidates at once. I would be able to see how they work under pressure, how they handle non-familiar task, how they work with people from different background, the way they communicate, to see if they are team player and even to judge their leadership skill.

If I was to hire someone to become SDN & NFV Consultant or Architect, beyond the skill and personality I would look at her experience, her reputation in the market, her network and contacts, and what others say about her. But if I want to hire fresh graduates or even someone with less experience, who most likely has not built reputation or network, so my focus is mainly on the skill, ability to deliver outcome and a team player, I believe this is the best way. I don’t need to create multiple hiring process, come up with long list of interview questions, and I don’t need to build simulated environment to analyze candidate’s ability.

Next time I was going to hire someone, I would rather host a Hackathon event.

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