Coding challenge tests skill, opens doors to job market
On the same day that Drury and Southwest Baptist universities went head-to-head on the basketball court in mid-November, two other groups of students were engaging in a different kind of rivalry in the classroom.
Each year, O’Reilly Auto Parts sponsors a hacking challenge between the two schools’ computer science departments. The event provides students hands-on experience solving problems within computer code, and it gives O’Reilly recruiters a chance to reach out to future talent. This year’s edition on the Drury campus saw teams of students examining code in a game of Tetris to find – and fix – various bugs.
“Our company is driven by technology,” says Ashley Warner, technical recruiter for O’Reilly. “We come out here to encourage the students to continue to pursue a career in the field, and hopefully they’ll remember we were here and they’ll think about careers at O’Reilly one day.”
Dane Wommack is a Drury senior who’s also currently an intern software developer at O’Reilly. He helped create the exercise and says these events help budding developers with problem solving skills.
“It helps you learn how to look at something,” he says. “It’s that ability to be able to take a problem and break it down into tiny sections.”
This was the first such experience for Ben High, a freshman computer science major at Drury. Though he’s been programming for six years already, he says the exercise helped him improve his ability to read and comprehend code written by others. He was on a team with two seniors, which was also a boon.
“I went for the experience but also to hang out with other programmers and be on the same level as people who are higher up in years,” he says.
A team of SBU students won the challenge, earning bragging rights and some Amazon gift certificates. Afterward, the students mingled and ate a catered dinner. They also participated in another short coding puzzle that came directly from O’Reilly’s corporate interview process.
The Drury-SBU rivalry is a great recruiting backdrop for O’Reilly, says Lori Newman, talent acquisition technical specialist with the company.
“We like problem solvers in our company and I think liberal arts colleges help develop those kinds of skills,” she says. “That’s huge for us from a human resources standpoint.”
Newman and Jeremy See, a software developer at O’Reilly, both praised the computer science programs at Drury and SBU.
“From a technical standpoint, the Drury interns that we get are at the top,” See says. “They are the most proficient and most efficient coders that we get. There’s apparently a pretty solid computer science program here because all of them are on their feet and running as soon as they get in the door.”
Nicholas Jaross, an applications development supervisor at O’Reilly, stressed the importance of keeping local talent pipelines open.
“When I went to school there was a prevailing idea that I’d have to move to Seattle, Silicon Valley or New York City to get a great job,” he says. “But there is a lot of technology here. You don’t have to leave. There’s a lot of great opportunity for wonderful careers right here in Springfield, Missouri.”