The Hacker Fair Project


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Science fair meets job fair

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  • Hi, my name is Katy Levinson and I'm here to present something called the Hacker Fair Project which is a project we actually started here at Hacker Dojo. Basically, it is like a backwards job fair.
  • Like almost all things this boils down to people. There are a lot of people, and we need to evaluate them for business connections, school admissions, etc, but only a few of them are the right ones. So we have created this art of taking people and boiling them down so we can compare them to each other.
  • We have many of these systems, and most of them result in a number, which is kind of arbitrary. We wind up with situations like “oh well you have a better GPA so you are obviously a better English major than he is a Mechanical Engineer.”
  • But this is not meant to be my rant against the education system or big business. Those things have been bashed exhaustively at other talks. I'm just saying this is the system, and I think there is something we can do here to change it for the better.
  • So let's look at how the current system works. We have some people on one side. Then we have some sort of magical gatekeeper who is generally nontechnical. Some filtered portion of the gatekeeper's input comes out to the engineers, or the technical people.
  • And if we look at the gatekeeper closely it just mostly looks like a stack of paperwork being filtered by either a computer or a non-technical person. The nature of this filter and the randomness of chance means that we do silly things sometimes to increase our odds of getting someplace. How many people here applied to a few spare colleges just because they were on the Common App? I applied to an extra four.
  • So what does this system reward? Well you can think of these numbers as Markov chains indicating future success, and it rewards anybody who can game those indicators. It rewards anybody who can game the system by padding their GPA or taking an SAT cram course, and it rewards fast-talkers.
  • So lets switch to another track: “We are what we celebrate.” This is a quote from Dean Kamen who started something called FIRST which is meant to get students excited about science and technology. They built this whole competition modeled like a sports event. With this competition they also built a culture that followed the event and shared the same values.
  • And the result of this is you wind up with a lot of kids who are really genuinely excited about science. They grew up, and they decided to follow this for their life because this was what was socially rewarded. This has been massively successful, it turns out thousands of kids a year, and I'm one of the direct results of this program.
  • So the question comes “What do we want celebrated?” In a hiring setting we want all the things which make you a good employee. The thing is, most of these things can be projected in a portfolio, which is how artists do this.
  • They have a portfolio of their previous technical work which they put forward and let other people look at. This works really well for them, and so I don't see why it can't work well for us. It answers pretty much all the questions except for “Are you a nice person?”
  • So the new design is we're going to take all these portfolios and put them together, and we're going to do this at scale so you don't lose the time you normally save with an automated filter for numbers. We're also going to do it in person so you can get a feel for the person's personality.
  • And when you think about it this is not that bizarre a design because we do it all the time with middle and high school students. We give them a science fair. They do all their work, they show up, and they set up their booth. Then people, especially those giving out the special awards that are sponsored by external associations and companies, go around and find the projects that are relevant to them and give them these special awards.
  • So we got a bunch of companies together, thank you to Microsoft and iSocket who sponsored this event, and we put them all in a room. We started out with about 40, this isn't all of them by any means, these are just a few with shiny logos...
  • ...and we basically had a science fair for grown-ups. Not everybody got as into it as this candidate, who is actually a facebook applications developer currently, but this served him pretty well. You can see his demonstration in the lower corner.
  • And this started at 40 candidates and 40 recruiters but about 48 hours before the event the size doubled to about 80 and 80. About 200 spare name badges were printed at the door for people who just showed up and more people just kept coming in. Some people made hand-made stickers. This whole thing went out of control really rapidly.
  • We had all kinds of projects displayed. You can see at the top there is Secret Ada which is an iPhone app meant to get young women interested in science. At the bottom is a chip with a breadboard in the background. The girl designed and printed her own PCBs so you can wave it around and it translates the gestures to MIDI, like a synthesizer.
  • It was truly an overwhelming response. We a candidate drive here from Maine to California explicitly for this event. We also had coverage from Techcrunch and The Washington Post.
  • We plan to do want to do this again. Thank you to Twilio who is sponsoring Hacker Fair 1. I really want you all to steal this idea and do it. We have already had two requests for Hacker Fair events that we just can not run because we don't have sufficient volunteer staff to run them all.
  • Please come join in. I could really use your help because this is how I want to start to change the world. Thank you.
  • The Hacker Fair Project

    1. 1. The Hacker Fair Project Katy Levinson
    2. 2. People <ul><li>Many </li></ul><ul><li>Need to evaluate strangers </li></ul><ul><li>Very few are right </li></ul><ul><li>Must evaluate a lot of people </li></ul>
    3. 3. Evaluating People in Bulk <ul><li>GPAs </li></ul><ul><li>SATs </li></ul><ul><li>GREs </li></ul><ul><li>Awards / Fellowships </li></ul><ul><li>Degrees </li></ul><ul><li>Years of experience </li></ul>Photo Credit: Aaron Anderer
    4. 4. This is not <ul><li>Against education system </li></ul><ul><li>Against big companies </li></ul>
    5. 5. Photo Credits: Andrew Becraft, Tim Deering, Chris Walton
    6. 6. Photo Credit: Aaron Brown
    7. 7. What does this reward? <ul><li>System can be gamed </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Everything is a Markov Chain </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Good talkers </li></ul>
    8. 8. “ We are what we celebrate” Photo Credit: Jason Osmann
    9. 9. Photo Credit: Dave Wilson
    10. 10. What Do We Want Celebrated? <ul><li>Hands-on experience </li></ul><ul><li>Love of work </li></ul><ul><li>Real Skills </li></ul><ul><li>Talent </li></ul><ul><li>Being a nice person </li></ul>
    11. 11. Image Credit: Rick Harrison
    12. 12. New Design <ul><li>Needs to </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Be fast </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scale </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We decided to </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Gather people </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Let candidates demo personal projects </li></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Photo Credit Terriko
    14. 15. Photo Credit: Jason Tester
    15. 16. Photo Credit: Yang Chung
    16. 17. Photo Credits: Jason Tester
    17. 18. Overwhelming Response <ul><li>Candidates from Maine, Austin and LA </li></ul><ul><li>TechCrunch, Washington Post </li></ul>
    18. 19. Future Plans <ul><li>Hacker Fair 1: April 3 rd 2010 at Hacker Dojo in Mountain View California </li></ul><ul><li>Steal this idea! </li></ul><ul><li>Two missed fairs! </li></ul><ul><li>Need </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Candidates </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Recruiters </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sponsors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Volunteers </li></ul></ul>
    19. 20. Thanks More info at