Industry Insights

How Blackstone Scales Developer Hiring to Create a Positive Economic Impact & Long-term Value

Written By Aditi Chandrasekar | October 21, 2020

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A talented developer is valuable on their own. But an even more valuable developer is one that works well with others.

That’s how John Stecher, Chief Technology Officer at Blackstone, determines a qualified candidate.  “You want a team of people that can actually work together to produce more than the sum of the parts,” says John. “We look for folks that can collaborate well and help each other out.”

Our own APAC Marketing Director, Aadil Bandukwala, spoke with John to learn more about how Blackstone weaves innovation into their tech hiring program and how HackerRank has successfully up-leveled the quality of candidates coming through the door. 

Read the Q&A below for high-level insights or listen to the full podcast here.

What is your vision for Blackstone Technology and Innovations?

I want Blackstone to be viewed as a firm that has world-class technologists when compared to other leading companies in financial services. It’s extremely important to me that folks have an inherent curiosity about financial services, especially as we continue to ramp up hiring over the next few years.

Our technology team plays a key role in accelerating Blackstone to be one of the top investment firms in the world. We do this by building and deploying tools and systems that empower our professionals to be as productive as possible. So the more productive we make our team, the more hours we can dedicate to bringing value to our customers. 

Time is the one element in life you never get back. And to me, that's what a lot of technology is. Technology enables people to devote more time to do better work. 

Another key pillar in my overall vision from a technology perspective is our Cybersecurity practice. Protecting our clients’ information is absolutely paramount. As we continue to bolster that team, my hope is to implement security into everything we do.

The third pillar is to become a lot more data-centric. As a private equity firm, Blackstone does business with a number of firms that generate very interesting data that can actually help us improve the performance of those companies—as well as help us source new investments down the road. 

The fourth element is continuing to become a better team. Teamwork is the key to doing your best work. You need to work hard, you need to have hard conversations, but ultimately, you need to have each other's back throughout the whole thing. It’s important to build a team that has more of a military mindset of working towards the same goal together. And the more you work for each other, the more likely you are to adopt that mentality. 

What are your core values? How are those values weaved into Blackstone Technology and Innovations?

We are forward-thinking problem solvers who can take projects from idea to implementation. I think that’s where we shine: taking ideas from customers and clients of the firm as well as portfolio companies, distilling them down, and building what matters to them. That is really one of the core things we do here. You have to have forward-thinking people, people that understand the problem space, and want to work in it to execute. 

We have a very open culture that empowers our colleagues to grow, share ideas, and make a significant impact on the firm. From day one, analysts can come in and have an impact. 

Although our team is not small by any standards, the impact somebody can have at Blackstone Technology and Innovations on day one versus at a classic technology company is critical. And I believe that from day one, everyone should contribute to the success of the firm. 

Our values involve openness, excellence, and teamwork. We specialize in identifying diverse business challenges across the firm and building the right solutions to drive Blackstone's success. Sometimes it is building our own solution, other times it requires bringing in external solutions. 

I believe good engineers can balance prioritizing a client’s needs and being a team player. When you work with so many diverse professionals across the organization, you really have to understand them in order to work together, know what you’re good at, and what you're not good at. 

What are the skills and qualities that are a requirement to be hired at Blackstone?

We recruit from a broad range of schools, companies, and countries—including all the top engineering schools in the US. But what we really want to bring in is more than skills. One of the best things you can bring in the door is the diversity of viewpoints. So when we're hiring, we aim to bring in lateral talent and newly hired talent that really has a broad diversity of viewpoints across the board, because that truly helps you build the best solution.

We want to bring together a broad perspective on how to solve problems. So, problem solvers that have diverse backgrounds are really what we look for upfront. 

Beyond that, we look for people that really value working together as a team. There is the whole concept out there around acquiring the “10x developer.” In my personal experience with the 10x developer, they actually have a net negative multiplying effect on the teams around them. Because they struggle to work with others well. Now there is, of course, the unicorn 10x developer out there that does it really well. 

But for the most part, you want a team of people that can actually work together to produce more than the sum of the parts. And so, we look for folks that can collaborate well and help each other out. And we look for folks that can communicate and understand complex conversations and concepts that exist in the financial services world.

Beyond that, we look for candidates who are inquisitive, client-centric, dedicated, transparent, and innovative. But if you really take a step back, what I look for is somebody that doesn't just stop at good enough, it's somebody that kind of takes the next step.

What I’ve discovered is candidates will either just write the code, or they'll actually take the time to comment. It shows they want to take this further and be better than just average. 

Another aspect of an interview that I pay a great deal of attention to is how many questions candidates ask me. The interviews should never just be one-way conversations, and the quality of questions you get back typically dictates the thought process that somebody has. And I've found throughout my career that the folks who are inquisitive from an interview perspective typically come across better at the end of the day. 

We use HackerRank’s Developer Skills Platform to make sure we're getting folks in the door who are top-notch from the very beginning. From the core technology side of the fence, it's a broad technology team. From managing data centers, and core infrastructure, which is where you get into low-level TCP/IP stacks, and all sorts of firewall and network bandwidth issues, which is a very different kind of mindset than a developer has. Then up the stack, we have quite a large swath of Python developers, where we look for folks that are just top-notch. They're involved in data analytics, data transformation, ETL processes, down into the C sharp and dotnet world, and then deep into the JavaScript world as well. 

What have you been able to achieve with HackerRank?

About a year ago, we began leveraging the HackerRank challenge test as the first step of our formal interview process. The questions and results are discussed in the first round of interviews—which makes the first round interview a lot more conversational because there's a topic. And so, it gives us a catalyst to have a good conversation. That’s important because it gets you both started on the right foot. And also ensures the time spent together is optimized as much as possible. 

Then the results with the HackerRank challenge are reviewed at the end of the interview process to evaluate a candidate’s coding ability. So we like to use HackerRank as a bookend: it starts the process and ends the process. 

Overall, HackerRank has helped us streamline our recruiting process significantly. In fact, in the time that I have been here, I have seen HackerRank actually up-level the quality of candidates that we are bringing in the door. So as we go forward, and we expect to hire a good deal more developers, I see it continuing to grow in importance and being a real linchpin of the process that we have.

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