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customer story

OpenSesame + CodeSignal

Empowering Engineers to Hire the Best Talent, Fast




Portland, OR





New to managing an engineering team but deeply familiar with and committed to OpenSesame’s ethos of hiring for skill and potential, rather than for pedigrees, Gunnar Holwerda needed to find a way to quickly scale OpenSesame’s technical hiring process and, at the same time, reduce engineering time spent on hiring. Gunnar turned to CodeSignal Test–with a library of over one dozen assessment templates, support for over 40 languages, and full keystroke recording that allows hiring teams to replay a candidate’s coding process, he was able to streamline OpenSesame’s hiring process, grow their engineering team by 90%, and greatly reduce time spent per hire. 

Modernizing employee development

Training has long been a mainstay of many fields and, with technology advancing at an exponential rate, it’s become a necessity of running almost any business in the 21st century. However, while the role of enterprise learning has become increasingly important in a modern workplace, its modes of delivery have remained largely stuck in the past–night classes and online courses at traditional universities can cut deeply into an employee’s out-of-work time, placing heavy demands and additional stress on them, and in-person workforce training takes time away from employees’ other projects. 

These are the issues co-founders Don Spear, Joshua Blank, Aaron Bridges, and Tom Turnbull sought to take on when they started OpenSesame in 2011. OpenSesame is an open marketplace where publishers can upload courses that businesses can pay to access. With full integration with almost all leading LMSs and LXPs and a catalog of more than 20,000 courses, OpenSesame has been growing rapidly; the company raised $28 million in their 2019 series C funding round and now employs more than 140 team members  

Saving Time and Moving Fast

Gunnar Holwerda has devoted his entire professional life thus far to OpenSesame. A 2014 summer internship while still studying computer science at Montana State University led to a junior software engineer position; for the past four years, Gunnar has rapidly moved up the ranks, becoming OpenSesame’s manager of engineering in June of 2019, less than three years after joining the company full-time. 

With a wildly successful funding round and the company generating revenue, the time was coming for OpenSesame to transition into a multi-team organization–meaning Gunnar, as the newly-minted manager of engineering, had ambitious hiring goals to meet, and quickly. Following its series C round, OpenSesame announced plans to double its workforce by bringing on 70 new employees. With plans to develop new features, including tools to help instructors develop more courses, scaling their engineering team became a top priority for Gunnar.

While OpenSesame was already utilizing at-home coding assessments as an early step in their screening process, Gunnar quickly became aware of its shortcomings. Manually writing and evaluating coding assessments was taking up a large amount of his team’s time–time that could be spent developing the new features that OpenSesame had planned. With the average online job posting receiving about 250 resumes, being able to screen candidates at the top of the funnel quickly and efficiently is vital to scaling up a company’s hiring process without eating up all of their employees’ time. 

Moreover, traditional screening techniques–particularly resume reviews–are prone to bias. When trying to move quickly through a wide pool of applicants, hiring teams can unintentionally fall back on unconscious biases, putting female applicants and applicants of color at a disadvantage. The same holds true for manually scoring coding assessments–with a high volume to move through and a short turn-around time, engineers scoring these assessments may allow unconscious biases to influence the way they score.  

Taking Back The Engineering Team’s Time

Gunnar helped OpenSesame make the switch to CodeSignal Pre-Screen in 2019. Pre-Screen is a technical skills evaluation solution that helps companies like OpenSesame optimize their technical hiring processes, saving them time and helping them meet hiring goals quickly. Pre-Screen also comes with access to research-backed skilled evaluations and the ability to customize the experience.

This makes Pre-Screen a viable, efficient top-of-funnel technical skills evaluation solution. “My favorite part [of CodeSignal] is being able to quickly set up an assessment, share it with candidates, and then be notified once they have completed it,” Gunnar says. “It can all be done in under a minute.” With pre-built questions available for the most in-demand specialties–including data science, machine learning, Java, Python, Ruby on Rails, and more–CodeSignal Pre-Screen takes the demands of writing coding questions off of engineering teams, allowing them to hire faster while also remaining more productive on their own projects.

My favorite part [of CodeSignal] is being able to quickly set up an assessment, share it with candidates, and then be notified once they have completed it. It can all be done in under a minute.

— Gunnar Holwerda, Engineering Manager

Not only does Pre-Screen make it faster and simpler for Gunnar’s team to send out coding assessments to a large pool of applicants–it also ensures that their evaluations are fair and accurate. CodeSignal records candidate keystrokes, allowing hiring teams to replay a candidate’s process to gain a fuller understanding of their abilities. For Gunnar, this feature provides “a lot more context” than just the candidate’s coding score or final solution. “We can catch candidates who got close to the answer but didn’t get to finish it,” he explains. This helps them better evaluate not just a candidate’s skills, but their potential. 

OpenSesame committed to looking beyond experience and pedigrees long before they partnered with CodeSignal; in fact, their 2014 fall intern cohort wasn’t comprised of the typical high school and college students, but entirely of professionals looking to change careers and learn to code. Looking past a candidate’s pedigree and evaluating them based on skill in order to provide every applicant with a fair shot is a core part of OpenSesame’s ethos as a company; these features allow Gunnar and his team to maintain this ethos throughout their hiring process. CodeSignal’s automated predictive scoring features also help engineers catch scoring bias before it happens; Gunnar confirms that, in a recent audit of OpenSesame’s hiring practices, they were immediately able to rule out CodeSignal skill evaluations as a source of hidden bias.

Scaling With Skill in Mind

CodeSignal helped Gunnar scale OpenSesame’s technical hiring process quickly and effectively. “Since implementing CodeSignal, we have had a much stronger understanding of a candidate’s technical capabilities and how they relate directly to the job,” he explains. “We can use the results we see from CodeSignal to see where we should focus in further interviews.” CodeSignal allows Gunnar and his team to identify quality candidates more objectively, helping them move through a high volume of candidates quickly without having to rely on resumes and pedigrees–meaning they were able to scale up their engineering teams quickly. In fact, Gunnar was able to grow OpenSesame’s engineering team by 90% by the end of 2019.  

OpenSesame has continued to grow and stay true to its commitment to equity in 2020. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, OpenSesame announced free, unlimited access to learning materials relevant to coronavirus preparedness and remote work training (a promotion that Gunnar led in design and implementation). Just a few months later, they announced a strategic partnership with TED to create TED@Work, a new product suite for online learning. As OpenSesame continues to grow, CodeSignal will be there with a suite of products to help them scale their workforce efficiently and equitably.

How Can CodeSignal Help Your Company?

CodeSignal Pre-Screen was the right solution for Gunnar and his team; however, that’s not all CodeSignal has to offer. CodeSignal also offers Tech Screen and Interview as part of our suite of technical interview and assessment solutions. Tech Screen is a technical phone screen replacement that gives time back to engineers while providing a white glove candidate experience; while Interview is a powerful, all-in-one remote technical interviewing solution that includes HD audio and video calling, a fully-integrated live coding environment, a virtual whiteboard, and more.Whatever recruiting challenge your business may be facing, CodeSignal’s suite of technical assessment tools can help your company #GoBeyondResumes and hire more effectively and efficiently.