From starting off as a dream by two college friends, HackerRank has now taken over the world with over 11 million coders and developers frequenting it. It is the one-stop platform for all software needs - from learning coding to practising software development. Now, HackerRank is a global platform for technical recruitment for major industries like Facebook, Amazon, and other MNCs as well. A company that started as a mere idea is now a major player in its field with offices in London and California.

For the second edition of Newton Speaks, Mr Harishankaran K, co-founder and CTO of HackerRank, took us through a candid and engaging journey of how two NIT-Trichy alumni and their never-say-no spirit took over the software world.

It would be a surprise to many that Hari actually took Biology in high school. However, he understood early on that it was not his forte. He got into NIT Trichy for EEE, and then switched to CSE within the first semester. Having come from a non-coding background, he had to work hard to keep up with his classmates. But this did not deter him from participating actively in clubs and events. It was at one of these that he met the future co-founder of HackerRank, Vivek Ravisankar.

After being at IBM for a year, he and Vivek (then working at Amazon), quit their jobs to start working on their company. They began as ‘Interview Street’, a platform where students could attend mock interviews with their desired company, which would help improve their performance for the actual interview. But within a few months, it became apparent that their idea had some major flaws. Customers were low, and with 15 months of work, they were only able to collect 4000 rupees, half of which were spent in celebration.

Yet, Hari and Vivek possessed the quality all great entrepreneurs have - perseverance. Despite the lack of experience, insufficient funds, a deadline by their parents, and multiple occasions of feeling lost, they kept themselves and each other motivated. Their first big breakthrough came when they were accepted into Y Combinator, an American seed money startup accelerator on their third trial. HackerRank became the first Indian company to be chosen for the famed incubation program.

Looking back, Hari believes that what worked for them is their courage to ask the question - “What’s next?” every time they encountered a roadblock. He truly believes in the mission and purpose of HackerRank, that is to provide equal opportunities for all, regardless of their backgrounds. To quote him, “Companies hire via resumes, when in fact it should purely be based on skill. That’s the core of HackerRank.”

It was in college that he learned to work past any setback and manage multiple things simultaneously. He said, “College is the place where I have learned everything I needed for running a company.” He advises students to leverage the place where they are in right now and utilise their energy, for it is then that we truly have no limits.

Today, Hari’s role as CTO keeps him actively involved in the brainstorming and hiring processes of the company. Although he started the company so he could code more, he does find much time for it in his day-to-day schedule. He does try to fit it in whenever he can. He mentioned that he has always found solving engineering problems interesting, so running the technical behind-the-scenes of HackerRank keeps him stimulated.

One factor that Hari focuses on is constantly evolving the company. He said that HackerRank constantly strives to improve itself and add new features. This is what had helped it change significantly from the survivor state it was in in the beginning. Software is eating the world, and every company needs to be a technology company. Uber, for example, is recognized as a technology company, rather than a taxi company, solving people’s problems through technical solutions.

Not only did Hari give us insights into the journey of an entrepreneur, but also gave us key advice he had picked up. Narrating a funny yet sad incident from 2012, while working with Bhavin Thurakia, a major name in the software world, he told us of how one of their co-workers was mistaken to be the founder because of his zeal and work ethic. “Take a place which adds value to you, not money. And stay at a place where you can make an impact”, said Hari.

He also stressed on upskilling ourselves, and the limitless possibilities that Google and the internet have to offer today. This attitude was also portrayed in how he optimistically faced other hardships with the motto of “I am still learning from this”.

When asked if there was anything he wished he had done differently in the past ten years at HackerRank, he replied, “No, I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to change, except maybe celebrating our successes more”. The initial team of four were so focused on building themselves up, “celebrations” meant getting an ice-cream at the nearby place. Now, HackerRank has built a culture of having fun and games in the office as well.

HackerRank may have been just another start-up dream by two ordinary college students. But what set them apart was their innovation, dedication and willingness to face challenges. It’s more than just a journey of two coders and entrepreneurs - it’s a story of finding your path, and staying on it till you reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

You can read more from Hari at https://sp2hari.com/

To watch the full talk, click on https://youtu.be/4hEqbWOJghY

Sreelakshmi Ranjith & Raidha Anwar