Hackathons are gaining popularity in data science and the IT industry to help spot the right talent in a big way. We got in touch with Nidhi Khanna, Vice President Delivery at Ciber India, an IT consulting firm that largely relies on analytics. With 22+ years of experience, she has been instrumental in delivering profit-driven technology services and solutions and building high-performance teams. She joined Ciber in 2013 as the Emerging Technologies Practice Director, and since then has been instrumental in building technology practices, driving innovation and thought leadership in the organisation. She incubated the concept of Startup practice for technologies (like Mobility, AI, IoT & Analytics) and developed it to a matured delivery state. Here are some interesting insights from Khanna on how hackathons have become a key ingredient of the data science and analytics industry.
Analytics India Magazine: How have hackathons become a crucial part of the hiring process in the data science industry? Do you think hiring through hackathons will make hiring easier?
Nidhi Khanna: Hackathons are becoming increasingly popular in the hiring process for niche areas such as data science, by enabling organisations to evaluate technical skills far better than what is provided in resumes. Hackathons also provide the opportunity to assess the problem-solving approach and capabilities of an individual within the time constraint, which is a practical and very plausible real-life simulation that he or she may encounter in their role. Such assessments are not possible through traditional recruitment processes. Yes, Hackathons definitely makes the evaluation process easier, faster and helps in identifying the right candidate for a role.
AIM: Hackathons solve two purposes —people strategies and the other is solving use cases in an innovative way? Do you agree?
NK: In the ever-evolving technology industry, engaging people and keeping them challenged is the need of the hour in our domain. Hackathon is a great tool to inspire and nurture an innovation-focused culture within the organisation. It facilitates creative thinking and innovative solutions.
AIM: What is the main purpose of conducting a hackathon for you?
NK: Hackathon is one of the most effective and constructive ways to drive innovation internally and to engage people. It also provides a platform for consultants to collaborate and showcase their continuous learning.
AIM: Can you cite a recent example where you hosted a hackathon? Could you state the purpose?
NK: We have been conducting hackathons regularly for the last five years at Ciber, with a purpose of inculcating a culture of learning, innovation and creating the opportunity for all to ideate on go-to-market solutions. Each year we cover a new theme and a niche technology with a focus on industry needs.
The most recently held at Ciber India was ‘Hacka-lo-mania’ in December 2018, where consultants developed data science and AI solutions addressing business problems of the healthcare industry.
AIM: How important are hackathons (both internal and external) to boost innovation? Have you in your organisation benefitted by conducting hackathons?
NK: From both internal and external perspectives, hackathons are an excellent way to shorten an organisation’s innovation cycle and help to move rapidly from ideas to prototypes. They also give participants a chance to learn and explore areas outside of their routine work and collaborate both within and outside the organisation.
Yes, our internal hackathons have helped in both employee engagement and business growth. They create an environment for individuals to explore beyond boundaries, arrive with intuitive ideas, in result organisation gains workable prototypes to demonstrate its capabilities.
AIM: Besides building people capital, do hack for hire also help in positioning the company as innovative and help in branding?
NK: Yes, Hackathons leveraged for recruitment purpose have a tangible impact on company branding. First, it demonstrates the disposition of an organisation towards innovation, which is integral and a must have especially in the IT Industry. Second, when an organisation opts for a more modern and engaging hiring process via a Hackathon, it creates an opportunity for involvement with the talent pool and a platform to engage and interact with prospective employees, which is very different from the traditional interview-based hiring process. In sum, Hackathons are a great way to create awareness of your brand, its association with innovation and bringing the community together, reflective of progressive and collaborative work culture.
AIM: How is hackathon turning into mainstream hiring requirements?
NK: Several reports indicate that millennials are the growing majority of our workforce and will comprise 75% of our global workforce. This does not leave organisations with many choices but to come up with creative and efficient ways of not just hiring, but also keeping the employees engaged. So yes, this new recruitment trend is here to stay.
AIM: What is your preference for candidates who have participated in hackathon vs direct hiring?
NK: While Hackathons will be the future of recruitment and will offer quicker hiring solutions, we cannot completely rule out the value of direct hiring. There are roles such as team leads, customer facing and managerial responsibilities, which require a set of soft skills that cannot be assessed through Hackathons. Thus, my personal preference depends on the role, where hiring Graduates straight from campuses and colleges through hackathons would be most effective.
AIM: Are hackathons replacing the need to have short term certification course in areas such as AI, analytics?
NK: The Importance of short-term certification in areas such as AI and analytics will remain, as these are necessary for learning and benchmarking of a new skill, whereas hackathons help in evaluating the application of skills.
AIM: In future, how will hackathons evolve (smaller, online hackathons or the preference will be for offline events)
NK: There are over 1000+ hackathons conducted every year around the world. In future, we will see these numbers increasing; many companies are opening their data sets to developers to build effective predictive models online specifically in BFSI space; while others will be conducting internal events to ideate solutions for business challenges.
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