Anti-Bias Fund Q&A: CodeSignal CEO Tigran Sloyan
December 23, 2020 | Scott Murphy
We’re pleased to introduce you to one of AVG’s first investments in the Anti-Bias Fund. The AVG Anti-Bias Fund offers investors a portfolio of ~20-30 venture investments that are led by diverse founders/teams or featuring a business model addressing systemic biases. AVG recently invested in CodeSignal’s $25 million Series B round and interviewed the company’s Co-Founder & CEO, Tigran Sloyan, to help bring the fund thesis to life.
CodeSignal (CS) is speeding up the technical talent assessment of candidates for engineering and programming positions. The company has created an interview platform where non-technical HR employees can conduct a real-time, bias-free coding assessment of a candidate’s technical capabilities — reducing resource constraints for companies. In addition, CodeSignal has already become the de facto standard to certify programming skills, with over 50% of CS grads nationwide obtaining a CodeSignal assessment score to put on their resumes.
What problem is CodeSignal addressing?
Tigran Sloyan: Humans are notoriously bad at identifying talent. You’ll review someone’s resume and look for a proxy — such as what school they went to or what company they worked at — as a way to narrow the list. It’s an extremely inefficient and biased process.
When it comes to what humans do in their evaluation, there’s a good part and a bad part. The good part is you can be adaptable and very precise in your assessment. The bias and lack of scale are the bad parts. So we’re bringing automation to the process to get rid of the bias and scaling problem.
Can you speak to why CodeSignal is a good fit for our Anti-Bias Fund?
Tigran Sloyan: Humans all see the world in a certain way. And depending on the way you see it, which is typically shaped by your own experiences, you project that onto everybody else.
An example in coding is gender bias. Traditionally, women didn’t go into computer science for many different reasons, but now it’s picking up at a very aggressive rate. But it’s still primarily male-dominated, and many grew up in a world where most of the best developers they knew were male. So when you conduct an interview, you have that bias in your head, whether you admit it or not.
What CodeSignal does is bring the objective data into the hiring process. When you look at a number that says this developer is better than 98% of other developers you know, it’s much harder to default to your bias.
What inspired you to launch CodeSignal?
Tigran Sloyan: One of my Co-Founders, Aram Shatakhtsyan, and I both grew up in Armenia in a somewhat rough period. We had no electricity, no heat in winter. Both of us had a similar journey, where I got deep into Math Olympiads, he got deep into Coding Olympiads. But then I ended up going to MIT with a full scholarship and he ended up studying in Armenia. Several years later, that small change led to me to work at Google and him having to freelance because he couldn’t get his foot in the door, even though he was a much better programmer.
And it wasn’t just me. Going through MIT, I found some of my classmates were truly amazing, and others barely passed their classes. Yet regardless of how qualified they were, they were chased by every tech and non-tech company. Someone like Aram, they wouldn’t even interview, though he was better than even the best ones I went to school with. That led me to the realization that someone had to do something about this.
What biases do you see in venture capital?
Tigran Sloyan: I’m lucky. I’m white, a guy, went to MIT, worked at Google. When you ask a VC to close their eyes and imagine a successful founder, they would probably describe my background. I’m pretty sure if you changed nothing else about CodeSignal except my gender or where I went to school and worked, fundraising would have been 10 times harder.
Just like everybody else, VCs look for patterns, because it’s a very imperfect science. You just try to develop a pattern around what you’ve seen work and replicate that.
I personally try to help a lot of female founders get their foot in a door. It takes double the work to convince people that you’re going to succeed if you don’t fit the standard profile. It’s a good idea that a lot of companies have a specific effort to invest in black founders and female founders, because that’s how you’re going to change the bias in VC. If they see those success stories, eventually their pattern will start changing.
What are your plans to continue growing CodeSignal?
Tigran Sloyan: The future of CodeSignal is growing and building an awesome team. We’re hiring in every single department. If you are or you know someone who’s highly skilled, even if their resume doesn’t reflect that, ping us. Because I can assure you, you’re going to have to take a test if you apply for any sort of job at CodeSignal. We try to live what we preach and use very data-driven methods to identify skill.
Take the last two hires we’ve made right after the fundraise. One is a professional tennis player who’s turned into a software engineer and the other doesn’t have a college degree at all. But both of them were in the top 0.01% in the assessment results. The guy without a college degree is the only perfect score we’ve got on an assessment that we’ve given to a sales representative — and that’s out of 600 people who took it.
AVG’s Anti-Bias Fund offers a portfolio of about 20-30 venture investments that are led by a diverse founding team or feature a business model addressing systemic biases. Approximately 25% of the fund is reserved for follow-on investments. Minimum starts at $25K. Click below to learn more.