Sunday, July 31, 2016

HackerX Frankfurt experience

This a departure from my normal subjects, but I don't have a blog dedicated to my software work.

I have recently attended the first HackerX instance in Frankfurt. For those who don't know, it's like a speed-dating event where potential employees and potential employers are face-to-face for 5 minutes, then the candidates (employees) rotate over to the next company.

Right off the bat I should mention that I did not receive my own invitation but I used one from a colleague. However the only difference is a missing email.



Edit: I understand that the tone below might sound negative but I've tried to be as impartial as I can and relate everything to my previous job interviews.

Edit January 2017: This post relates to the first (Jul 2016) Frankfurt HackerX event and should not be used as a baseline to measure similar events or locations. After speaking to some people attending the second event I realized that this blog post turns up in the first search results. Use your good measuring stick and judge by yourselves, don't use anonymous online information (such as mine) as definitive reviews.

TL;DR version: Good: people, location, efficient concept, swag. Not so good: planning, result.


Location

The location was very nice, at NetCentrics' FRA headquarters which was also one of the potential employers. Has a nice 'vista', modern building amenities and decently equipped headquarters. Parking is probably either difficult and/or expensive, but that is the case with any central location in a major city.
People had to be escorted in and out of the headquarters but this went smoothly, considering there were only a handful of people doing the job.



Timing

The event was scheduled to be between 18:00 and 20:30. There was an email at ~17:00 notifying that the event will start at 18:30. It actually started later than that since it took some time to get everyone at the location with the elevator.
Presentations started at ~19:05 and lasted for about 25 minutes, so that's decent, even though a bit on the long side since mostly everyone was standing up.

There were more than 50 candidates there instead of the expected turnaround of ~30, which means that the maximum time to get through all 7 companies would have been over 3 hours. I left at ~22:00 having gone through only 5 companies of the seven.
This was worsened by the fact that after 21:30 it became 'open night' where everyone could sit for however long they wanted at the interviewer's table and not keep a queue.

5 minutes is not enough to even scratch the surface, but would enough to weed out potential misfits. It's mostly the companies that benefit from this, I will detail why later.

Would have been nice to have a numbering/ticketing system instead of the 2h+ standing and waiting queue. That way you could attend to the food and drinks or talk to other people.

Since the event ran so late I have the feeling that quite a few employers were from outside the city and missed their train connections. Compared to the US, people rely mostly on public transportation here.

Facilities

There was pizza in the beginning but that went quickly cold. No complaints there, nobody was expecting this to take so long and this wasn't supposed to be a feast.
There were also free cold drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. By the end of the evening some candidates were borderline drunk.
The foosball table proved a nice distraction from the otherwise drab waiting times.

Language

Everything was communicated in English, the German discussions were only on request.

However, it came as a shock that one of the companies required German C2 level which is normally required in jobs related to public relations or journalism. I suspect that little of the IT force is actually proficient at that level in their native language, speaking from 15 years of experience.

Other

Everyone was mostly well behaved, I haven't noticed any clashes or outbursts, which is remarkable, given the fact that the event required a lot of patience and understanding. It was a friendly attitude throughout the way and the hosting company as well as the HackerX representative made extra effort to ensure that everything is alright.

The cultural difference between the West and the East was a bit visible but not so much - by this I'm referring to the fact that certain countries are used to 'push' their way to the front of the queue or to where the facilities (food, drinks, free seats) are. I'm decently well-travelled so have witnessed this behavior a lot stronger in those countries.

Since this was during a Thursday, people had to go home to their families or to prepare for the next day of work. In fact, two of my friends that were there left without having a single interview and another one left after 3 interviews.

The companies that were going to be 'on display' were not announced beforehand.

The why

It's tough to answer this question. For the employers this is mostly fine, they get to see a lot of people in a very short amount of time for little cost. Employing a hiring agency usually costs a lot more, headhunters charge an-arm-and-a-leg.
I've heard one employer complaining that he has to interview 200 people, but on the other hand the '200' people had to stand up in a queue for several hours just to speak to him. If I had to choose, I would consider the first option as the better one, but that's just my personal opinion.

As a potential employee it is a bit of a degrading experience and I see no reason to do this other than to meet new people or get free food. You could essentially be better off by just applying online or having Skype interviews. This could be improved by probably making it a several days event, during the weekend preferably, but those things already exist and are called job fairs.

In the end I would say it was an interesting experience, but, like other things - going across half of Europe on a scooter - it's probably something that I would not do a second time.



Edit 2017
Against my own advice, I chose to attend another congregation in February 2017. Several things have improved, the location and people were great again. However, the waiting times have improved only slightly, down from 5h+ to ~3h. The difference was subject to interviewees getting to chose their 'favorite' company which had the effect of people interviewing only for 'big shots' at the expense of 'smaller fish'.
I think the only reason this is bad is because everything needs to be strictly scheduled. If even a single company abuses their 'PowerPoint time' it all goes south. My idea is to provide the PPT at least one hour before the event and skip the drab presentation. Some companies deliberately shortened the presentation to ease the pain, but others insisted on using their full 'air' time, somewhere around 10-15 minutes. That's 15 minutes that you can spend with the family instead, on both sides.

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