Behind The Scenes

DBS Hack2Hire: Can developers really be hired through a hackathon?

2 May 2017 by Ng Tiam Yang, CTO at Tyler Projects Pte Ltd
Photo: Shutterstock

An observer’s perspective of the DBS Hack2Hire programme

When I found out that DBS Bank planned to hire developers via a 24-hour hackathon, I was intrigued.

While hiring via a hackathon is not uncommon for tech companies, it is not the norm for banks to take this recruitment route. Plus, the bank was looking for developers well-versed in emerging and disruptive technologies such as cloud, machine learning and Big Data.

I run a gaming development company and hiring good developers has always been a challenge. This was exacerbated in recent years when large multinational technology companies such as Google and Facebook set up shop in Singapore, and usually offered better packages. Many developers are also striking out on their own, preferring to work on projects that are their passion points.

With a stroke of luck, I bumped into an old friend who was working in DBS and the bank was happy to let me attend the Hack2Hire hackathon as an observer. I thought it was important to keep up to date with what other companies in the war for developer talent are doing so I spent a weekend at DBS Asia X, the bank’s latest innovation facility located in the Sandcrawler Building, with almost 100 other developers and comrades in the tech industry.

Photo: Shutterstock

On your mark, get set, go

When participants arrived, they were put into groups of 4-5 people and most of them had never met one another before. This was a departure from some of the more conventional hackathons where you can form teams with your friends. I guess this is the bank’s way of simulating a realistic work environment where you do not get much choice on who you work with. The participants ranged from fresh graduates or soon-to-graduate students, to seasoned developers who own a business or work for a large company.

From my personal experience, this is one of the biggest hurdles when participating in a hackathon with strangers, as it takes time for the team to get to know one another and figure out the various individuals’ strengths and weaknesses.

In the next 24 hours, each team had to choose from three challenges and come up with a working prototype. The challenges were specific, unlike other hackathons, probably because the primary objective was to assess candidates, rather than sourcing for ideas. The team scoring criteria were based on six components: Innovation, User Interface, Quality of Solution, Pitch Presentation, Desirability and Challenge Completion.

A DBS staff from its technology arm was attached to each team. In addition to providing assistance to the team, the DBS mentor was also observing how participants worked in the team, assessing each participant’s ability to work as a team, his/her coding capabilities and leadership skills up close.

I was pleasantly surprised at how committed and driven the candidates were. Although they were not required to stay overnight, most teams did.

Photo: DBS

Survival of the fittest

The next morning, and on a Sunday no less, each team presented their solution to the judging panel, which comprised several experienced tech practitioners from Amazon Web Services, Cloudera and Pivotal. Everyone was invited to listen in to the various presentations.

The quality of solutions presented was impressive, some even involved machine learning, and teams were able to deliver on most of the requirements set by the judges. The prizes for the top three teams were really attractive too! These included MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, Amazon HD8 tablets and more.

The highlight of the event was when potential candidates were announced and they were ushered to another area to do their interviews. They had to face a panel of four tech and HR managers.

Photo: DBS

At the end of the two-day hackathon, as an observer, I was impressed by all the new information that was presented. The DBS Hack2Hire event is definitely a tougher and more challenging way of getting a job as compared to a regular job interview.

It is no simple feat to go through an online test, a 24-hour hackathon and a four-people panel interview. The candidates that come through are definitely a cut above the rest.

What is also important I feel is that it gives candidates an opportunity to interact with DBS’ senior leaders, and glean a deeper understanding of what it is like to work for DBS. They will be able to make a more informed choice and join a company that would resonate with their career goals and personal values.

As a business owner, I wish I had the resources of DBS to be able to run a similar recruitment experiment too. For small companies and start-ups, perhaps they can attend other hackathons as a way to find developers.

Hackathons are also popular among students and fresh graduates and so it will be a good avenue to bump up your company’s millennial quotient.

It is a tall order to reimagine banking but if DBS is able to attract more and more of such talent, not just for their coding skills, but for their “never say die” attitude, agility and sheer mettle, I think the bank is in a good place to achieve its ambition.

About the writer: Ng Tiam Yang is the co-founder and CTO of Tyler Projects, a cross platform games development studio with products on Android/iOS and social networks.

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