The V12 Group (Red Bank) hosted a hackathon for participants of the Rutgers Coding Bootcamp in early April, and by all accounts it was a successful event for all parties. The Rutgers Bootcamp students were able to work on a real problem with their newfound skills, and V12 Group got a close-up look at some potential employees.
V12 Group is a data company that warehouses over 5 billion consumer, business, automotive and online records. It sells that data to other firms, “enabling them to achieve marketing success through the use of high-quality data.” Customers also use the data to build their client bases.
The V12 Group Data Cloud is constructed of hundreds of compiled and proprietary data sources, and built from the individual on up. The company considers itself to be a thought leader in the industry, using some of the latest technologies out there in order to build and grow its data.
NJTechWeekly.com spoke to Tara Thurber Snyder, director of recruiting at V12 Group, and David Larcara, senior software engineer there, about how the idea for the hackathon came about and what the day was like.
Thurber Snyder said that she had been approached by Rutgers to speak to their coding bootcamp classes about how to get a job after they graduated from the program. “The course is a 24-week course, and they have student services that really help support them towards the end of the course, and help them with their resume writing and interviewing skills.” She talked to the groups at the end of last September, and enjoyed the experience.
“I had heard of companies doing hackathons, and I talked to the tech team to see if there were any ideas we wanted to push around.” V12 Group wanted to give the new grads a chance to compete. “We wanted to get them into our office and give them an idea of what working with a tech company was like,” said Thurber Snyder. Essentially, V12 Group wanted to be able to see how the coders worked in a small-team environment.
The V12 Group is growing rapidly, she added. “I came in in 2014 to spearhead the growth of this company. And within the year of 2015, I hired more than 50 people. Some 90 percent of those people were for our engineering department, and we have really expanded.” She noted that the company has between 100 and 120 employees in New Jersey.
Two groups of seven coders, Team Barracuda and Team Red Lobster, came to V12 Group on April 8, 2016, to compete in the hackathon. Lacara described the problem the coders were to solve. “We wanted to give them something that was slightly academic in nature, but also a real-world problem. They only had six to seven hours to work on it, basically one work day. We wanted something that was open-ended enough that they could be creative and come up with a solution, but also something they could tackle” during the time available.
V12 Group asked the coders to build a tool that would allow new and existing businesses to analyze the demographics of a geographical region to best parlay their next business decision. They realized that this was pretty open-ended, but the V12 Group team spoke with the Rutgers Bootcamp participants about cutting the problem down to size and working on smaller pieces.
“This was part of the exercise that we wanted them to get: how to tackle a problem in a smaller chunk first and not get dragged down by how big it is. Every problem you get in the real world is alive, and you are going to have to figure out what to tackle first,” said Lacara.
Students were given a data set to use that included some information about counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, along with 20 or so attributes of the people living in those counties.
Lacara noted that both teams did a great job. They both wanted to be there and were enthusiastic about building something. And they both had “a great experience, considering the short nature of the program.” He noted that V12 Group had mentors in the room all day, and that when he was in the room with the coders, they were willing to reach out and ask questions, an admirable trait.
At the end of the day, the Red Lobsters won the hackathon. Both team projects were evaluated based on technical difficulty, complexity, strength of code, applicability to the theme, feature richness and presentation of data. The judges included technical and nontechnical members of the V12 Group staff, Thurber Snyder said.
Lacara was one of the judges, and he said that the two teams were roughly equal in their coding abilities and approaches. The teams did differ in their presentations, however. The presentations were judged on how well the groups were able to convey their ideas and explain things, like how well their project would have turned out if they had had more time to work on it, and how well the proposed solution would actually solve the problem.
“First and foremost, this was a coding challenge, but other things were just as important. You actually had to explain where you were going. Did you solve the problem right? Did you understand the problem or just code something cool?”
Thurber Snyder told us that, after the hackathon, members of the V12 Group staff performed mock interviews with members of the teams, a very popular part of the event for both the staff and the students.
“We found a handful that were interested in doing either temp-to-perm or internships with us,” she said. “That’s our philosophy,” Lacara added. “Hire good people and we will find a place for them.”