Q&A with Vivek Ravisankar, Cofounder of HackerRank

by Y Combinator10/17/2018

YC posted a list of top alumni companies by valuation, as of October 2018. You can see the full list at https://ycombinator.com/topcompanies.

Here’s a Q&A with Vivek Ravisankar, the cofounder of HackerRank, one of the companies featured on the list.

What does HackerRank do?

HackerRank matches developers to the right jobs based on their skills.

How many employees does HackerRank have?


How many founders?


What is your most impressive recent product milestone?

Last month, we launched the Tech Talent Matrix, which helps our customers measure their developer recruiting performance. Engineering managers can quantifiably benchmark both the quality of skill assessments and how well they’re received by developers based on candidate feedback, completion rates, and other dimensions using data from 7 million skill assessments. You can learn more about it here.

What is the larger impact / societal impact of your product in the space you work within?

We’re on a mission to match every developer to the right job—with the underlying driver being skill as opposed to what school you went to, who you know, and what brands are on your resume. We’re helping create opportunities for developers by helping them showcase their skills to employers.

One of my favorite stories is of Adriana Rivera, who was a C++ programmer in the early 2000’s. She took a break from work to raise her kids, and this time off turned into 14 years. When she returned to the workforce, she had a really hard time getting anyone to call her back. Eventually, she was able to use HackerRank to showcase her skills, and now works at as a data scientist at Randstad Technologies. Stories like this are why we built HackerRank in the first place.

Here’s an interview we did with Adriana.

What’s an interesting element of HackerRank’s company culture?

Our core values are based on how we operate, which should be: Data > opinion; Giver; Customer Delight & Extreme ownership. We have a core value team internally that’s part of every single onsite interview panel. They have veto rights in the decision making process when we interview.

Looking back, what motivated you to start HackerRank?

The motivation has always been to help make the job search easier for developers. Finding the right job is among the most crucial decisions that someone can make; and it shouldn’t be dependent on a piece of paper.

Is what you’re working on now the original idea or did you pivot?

We went through a few different iterations before finding the right product market fit. Initially, we started out as a service to help match students in India with mentors at US-based graduate programs. When that didn’t scale well, we launched InterviewStreet, which focused on helping developers prepare in their job search through mock interviews. And, finally, we inverted the solution by building a product for companies to help them identify the right developers based on skills. Through each pivot, we’ve always been focused on helping developers at the core.

Were there moments where you thought the company might die? Describe one of those and anything you learned from it.

There’s always a level of healthy paranoia you are operating under at every stage in the company. The early days were very uncertain. We effectively were running w/o any salary, almost no revenue for ~2 years. It was nightmarish. I still have nightmares but it’s mostly around scaling effectively and growing quickly. 🙂

What was a particularly important insight you had about your market that made your product work?

I knew that there are going to more developers in the world in the future—beyond people who have a CS degree.

Most companies believe you have to hire CS grads from top colleges to build a strong engineering team. I did not go to one of the IITs (Stanford of India) and hence had an opportunity to see that’s not the only place to find talent. Some of the smartest, most hard working developers I know didn’t attend a prestigious school. And yet companies were completely overlooking or rejecting them. So, I knew that resumes for developers were going to become irrelevant in the future. That’s the thesis by which we got started. This insight helped because you can see that it’s come to fruition. Today even Google doesn’t look at CS degrees anymore. Our Developer Skills Report found that hiring managers only care about what you can do—not what’s on your resume. And as every company is becoming a software company, it’s increasingly important to find the right developers based on skills.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with a young founder?

Hard to give one piece of advice. But here’s what I’d tell myself:

  • Be passionate about the problem you are trying to solve
  • Be patient. It’s a 7 to 10 year journey to do anything significant. All the more reason to be patient.
  • Your early team of 10 hires is the most critical set of hires. It’s OK to hire slowly initially.
  • Focus on one product, one market, and one use-case, at least in the early stages, if you are a B2B company. It’s easy to get distracted by doing a lot of things. You will pay this debt in the future. It’s hard, but don’t give up. Believe in yourself.


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