TL;DR 10 of the best student hackers from around the United States toured 15 technology companies in Silicon Valley in 2 days. They learned a lot, met great people and made lifetime friendships.
If you think you’re better, try the challenges they attempted on HackerRank.
The top 10 came from a field of 600+ hackers that had 24 hours to work on 6 tough programming challenges. While it seems predictable that the top four contestants hailed from Harvard and UC Berkeley, there were also some surprises. For example, everyone expected Neal Wu to get 1st, he didn’t. And virtually unknown hackers placed in the top 10 like the two guys from Maharishi University of Management and another from Nebraska. HackerRank is able to identify great coders no matter what school or country they come from.
Here is a little blurb on each of the top ten finalists:
1st Place: Martin Camacho
Junior at Harvard, 17 years old and can sight-play on the piano. He was our human iPod in the evenings after a long day of touring.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, thanks HackerRank!”
2nd Place: Anting Shen
Freshman at UC Berkeley, Campus Ambassador for HackerRank and always hungry for more coding competitions.
3rd Place: Alexander Irpan
Freshman at UC Berkeley
“I felt that getting to see into so many companies was what made the trip so great. I haven’t been inside many company buildings before, so it was really neat to see how different companies organized and felt about themselves.”
4th Place: Neal Wu
Junior at Harvard, featured in Wired Magazine
5th Place: Khongor Enkbold
Masters student at Maharishi University of Management, originally from Mongolia, it was his first time in California
6th Place: Jinfu Leng
Masters student at University of Nebraska, originally from China, also first time in CA, already has an offer from Twitter by using HackerRank!
“It was fantastic to talk with these smart people; their names are familiar, but never met them in person before. The tour gave me a very wide view of how Silicon Valley companies work. It was really helpful for me on how and where to start my career.”
7th Place: Steven Karis
Freshman at UC Berkeley
This was really the first time I had gone to visit any of the tech companies and I found all of their different approaches to working, making great products and services very interesting. I also liked how at each company there seemed to be a big emphasis on small, more personal teams, even at the bigger companies like Facebook.
The trip also gave me a lot of insight into how to approach interviews and companies and see what kind of companies I liked or disliked. If I had to choose a favorite company that we visited it would have to be Quora, Weebly and Pulse, mostly because I really liked talking to the founders about how they created their company.
8th Place: Khasan Bold
Masters student at Maharishi University of Management, originally from Mongolia, also first time in CA
9th Place: Alexander Ramirez
Junior at UCLA, Campus Ambassador for HackerRank and hackathon junkie. After the tour he competed in a weekend long hackathon in SF. Here is his perspective of Day 1 and Day 2.
10th Place: Jerry Ma
Taking Graduate level courses at Purdue University, TAs for a CS class, humble and only 16 years old
Here are some more photos taken by Neal.
Imran Haque, Director of Research
Kyle Lapham, Director of Lab Automation
Imran Haque, Director of Research at Counsyl, discussed how genetic sequencing costs are outpacing Moore’s Law (see 3rd pic in the slideshow) and why genomics is an interesting area in computer science. He further explored the software engineering problems that Counsyl is addressing up and down the stack: from UI and UX on the medical genome; to high-availability, scalability, and automation in billing; to robotics in the lab; and to machine learning and statistics everywhere.
Kyle Lapham’s tour of the robotics in the lab and the 3D printers and showed the process of automation and how Counsyl is much more than a wet lab.
Swag fact: Counsyl t-shirts glow in the dark.
Abhinav Gupta, VP of Engineering and Founder
Rocket Fuel’s engineers have amazing pedigree – Stanford, CMU, IIT, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Microsoft. Founded in 2008, the company is now ranked 4th on Forbes list of America’s most promising companies, processes bid requests which are 3500x the volume of daily trades on NASDAQ, and generated $100MM+ in revenue in 2012 alone. Abhinav presented architecture, shared interesting insights from programmatic media buying / automated optimization, and showed data that demonstrates how other companies use static and fixed bids in the RTB (real-time-bidding) landscape vs. Rocket Fuel’s AI-driven (artificial intelligence) models that dynamically bid for optimal effectiveness.
Swag fact: They give out the nicest pens. One was shaped like a rocket where the fins are the holder and the other was a carbon fiber pen (which actually has some weight to it).
Paul Tarjan, Hacker Culture
Paul showed us around campus and talked about how hackathons ideas are sometimes turned into features on the Facebook site. Hyla, our tour guide talked about the significance of the crane in Hacker’s Square. It used to live in the basement of their old office in Palo Alto. They used it as a platform to kick off internal hackathons. So when Facebook moved, so did the crane.
A cool convenience, Facebook employee’s have access to vending machines stocked with keyboards, mice, power cords. earphones and other office equipment all for free, but prices are included to remind employees of the actual cost to the company. The vending machine helps both IT people and employees save time by getting the equipment they need without waiting in line or requesting new equipment if something breaks.
Palantir’s software helps save the world. It is used for a number of humanitarian causes, such as in the recovery efforts of Hurricane Sandy. They work closely with intelligence agencies to stop terrorist attacks, detect financial fraud and make the world a safer place.
On a lighter note, they converted an office into a ball pit and apparently two Wall St. bankers had a meeting in the pit. Palantir also had a different layout where there were more offices than open space.
We learned about their two types of engineers, the core team that builds the products, and the forward deployed engineers that basically help companies set up Palantir and make their data useable, which is harder than it sounds because a lot of the data is so horribly formatted.
David Maynard, Manager Mobile Applications
Samantha Paras, Web Application Software Engineer
James Huamonte, Backend Sr. Software Engineer
Each engineer talked about their work at Box. An excerpt from Alex Ramirez’s blog:
Box had 3 engineers answering questions, and ranged from a girl who graduated in 2011 to the head of mobile development who was in the first Computer Science class at Berkeley, so it was interesting to hear the different perspectives.
Interesting decor: Box’s stairwells are filled with large decals of their clients.
Matt Shoup, Hacker in Residence
Matt has the awesome job of hosting internal and external hackathons for LinkedIn. He showed us cool graphs on how LinkedIn users are connected to each other. Got to learn about a cool new features coming out of LinkedIn like a college section where LinkedIn has their own college ranking algorithm.
Swag fact: At the beginning of the tour each hacker got a tube which contained a graph of their social network on LinkedIn. You can make your own
here. There are also other Hackday projects you can play with.
Adam D’Angelo, Chief Executive and co-founder
Kah Seng Tay, Engineering Manager
Q&A with Adam. He told us about the craziest day at Quora, when there was an AWS outage and he was doing late night In-n-Out runs to feed his engineers for an all hands on deck recovery mode. He also talked about his role switch from CTO of Facebook to CEO of Quora. The biggest change being the amount of meetings he needs to attend on a daily basis.
Kah Seng groked some code about real time updates and notifications on the website.
Swag fact: they have the softest t-shirts, it’s American Apparel, but maybe they zap it with all the nice comments on Quora to make it extra soft.
Chris Martin, VP of Engineering talked about scaling users across hundreds of devices, running their own servers, detecting fraud and the cool artists that come to the office. It was also cool to see all the LCD screens with server monitoring software.
Joseph Essas, CTO
Cormac Twomey, VP Engineering
Dave Arthurs, Director, Engineering
The future of OpenTable and how they are using reservations as an entry point to help restaurants and their clients have a better experience at the front of the house.
Interesting Statistic: OpenTable has 99.8% market share of online reservations. However, 15% of people do reservations online, but as younger users adopt online reservations they expect that percentage to grow.
Harlan, CTO and Ben, CEO talked about the future of mobile gaming, fast iterations, lots of testing and more iteration. With the use of cutting edge technologies and the company’s rapid growth, their runaway success was a hot topic. The visit concluded with a tour of the space, showing off ping pong and pool tables, guitars and piano, small gym with a punching bag, and a video games area.
@akashgarg, @cgst, @ericflo and @finkel from the #Growth team talked about scale and monetization and what they are doing to reach a billion users. We also got to check out their roof deck and talked one on one with Akash and Eric with their experience as startup founders and being acquired by Twitter.
Jennifer Lin gave a thought provoking presentation on, “How to Choose Which Startup You Want to Work For”
How to Choose Which Startup You
Want to Work For
Dave Dash, Tools & Automation Engineer
What does a Tools and Automation Engineer at Pinterest Do?
Dave spoke about the details on how Pinterest deploys their software. He talked a little bit about their continual integration setup and testing, and how they do configuration management, but it was all at a really nitty-gritty level that was pretty Pinterest-specific.
-Sam Lucidi, Junior @ RIT who will be joining HackerRank in the Summer as an intern
David Rusenko, CEO and co-founder
David talked about his struggles as a startup founder and his thoughts on whether you should start your own venture or join a company straight out of college. He also showed us the secret room that can only accessed by pulling on a certain book.
Akshay Kothari, co-founder and CEO
Talked how he and Ankit (CTO) hustled the cafes of Palo Alto asking strangers to test out his app, having Steve Jobs demo Pulse with the launch of the iPad, and then a cease and desist from NYTimes six hours later. We also got to meet the whole team and watch their demo day of hacks they had been working on the past two days. Here is Neal’s thoughts on Pulse’s interview process.
Walt Lin and Amber Dixon talked about the tech stack they use and the challenge of making video chat work across all devices both web and mobile. They had the most technical talk.
A big thank you to all the companies that allowed us to come to their offices to learn more about what they do. We’re going to do this again late August to early September so keep challenging yourself on HackerRank.