A Q&A with Rick Brownlow, chief executive at Geektastic

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The latest company to be added to the partner list at GamCrowd is Geektastic, a community-based tech screening platform using talented software engineers to create and review the coding challenges allowing Geektastic’s clients to screen applicants and receive the same level of technical evaluation they would get from an in-house team. The company was formed by gaming industry veteran Rick Brownlow, who latterly was chief executive at Bonza Gaming, and Charles Girdham, who performs the role of chief technology officer and was with Brownlow at Bonza. GamCrowd caught up with Brownlow to discuss his views on how and why the gambling industry is failing the tech challenge, and why just such a service agency as Geektastic can help speed the process of hiring great tech people that can drive any business forward.

GamCrowd: What are your thoughts on how technology is utilised in the gambling industry?
Rick Brownlow:
Gambling was always seen as one of the pioneers in the web, driving innovation and growth. I remember back in the early 2000s everyone always talked about the 3Gs (girls, gambling and games) driving the web, but now of course the rest of the world has caught up. The way the industry is structured with innovative providers creating new products to license to eager operators keen to launch the latest innovation means large investment in R&D can pay off with quick access to vast distribution. Without this ecosystem individual companies would struggle to justify the investment. I think what William Hill did with their incubator was a move in the right direction (although I’m not sure what happened to it) and the same goes for Unibet with Will Mace leading the innovation team looking at tie -ups with companies looking three-to-five years ahead. That is always a tough sell with investors and shareholders who are more focussed in the next quarterly results.

GamCrowd: Which companies to your mind are doing the most to promote good tech practice in the sector?
Rick Brownlow:
Well I would have to say both Gaming Realms and QuickSpin, but of course they have both used us to fill their candidates. I guess my wider observation would be any company that doesn't have tech in-house to build intelligent layers of analytics to connect the various service providers would be failing to create a good tech practice. However, I am sure most are doing this. Historically the industry was broken into the old-school bricks-and-mortar guys who simply bolted on digital services through service providers and the startups as they were then, the Sportingbet, Betfair, and bet365s of this world who in the most part built their core tech in-house and outsourced things like games and poker to third parties (which made perfect sense). As the world has moved on we have seen some companies happy to outsource all the product development to third parties, even products which are at the company’s core. Personally I don't get this. For me I like the product to be in the DNA of the business and to be 100% in control of the roadmap and being able to steer the direction by experimentation and iterative improvements against my customer base.

GamCrowd: Can you explain what Geektastic can add when it comes to tech and employing tech staff?
Rick Brownlow:
Having grown tech teams in the past we know all too well how painful the process is. Too much time is spent screening CVs, phone screening (which is actually more like selling, the demand is so high for software engineers across the board that this is as much of a selling process encouraging the engineer to consider your company over the other 10 she/he is talking too), technical screening (this can take the form of zipped up code challenges flying around (or not, as they are often quarantined by overzealous email filters), pair programming sessions or white-board sessions - all of which inevitably take up huge amounts of internal developer resource screening the submissions (whereas they could have been building your next million-pound revenue busting product feature) or utilising third-party machine-based code screening tools (which candidates hate taking as it reduces them to a score in return for their two hours of hard graft) and often still requires human intervention, defeating the object of outsourcing the screening in the first place. All of this time and energy can be minimised by using Geektastic. We’ve analysed these flows and developed a solution that complements all manner of hiring flows. We provide deep insight into candidate's coding ability - do they write maintainable code? Do they write good tests? - in such a way that the output can be used by non-technical talent teams or hands on developers.    

GamCrowd: Can you briefly explain your own history and that of the company?
Rick Brownlow:
I have been working in the gambling space since about 2002, working in start-ups (Mfuse in the early 2000s and more recently CEO of Bonza Gaming) and large corporates such as Sportingbet (Head of Mobile). Being in a product-focused role meant relying heavily on solid engineering teams to deliver market leading products either as a service or for internal operations. Regardless of the size of the company, or the size of the engineering team, finding and hiring talented software engineers has always been a nightmare. Tech recruiters were great at matching tech skills, cultural fit etc. but when it came down to being able to assess the actual coding skills of candidates they failed time and again. It always makes me laugh when you speak to a member of the Java team or the JavaScript desk but no-one on the desk could actually code. Leaving Bonza in mid-2015, myself and Charles Girdham (chief technology offer at Bonza) wanted to try and tackle this problem head on. We wanted to help hiring managers and tech recruiters by creating a platform that properly screened talent using real humans to carry out the evaluations (unlike machine-based tech screening platforms that simply spit out a score) so we created Geektastic: a community-based tech-screening platform using talented software engineers to create and review the coding challenges allowing our clients to screen applicants and receive the same level of technical evaluation they would get from their in-house team.  

GamCrowd: What do you hope to get from the partnership with GamCrowd?
Rick Brownlow:
We want to focus on what we do best, growing the community, creating new code challenges and developing features to enhance the platform and deliver value to its users. GamCrowd is exciting for us because its studio offers access to the industry from a single integration. Being a young startup, visibility and credibility are key to our early-stage growth so it’s great to be associated with GamCrowd and featured alongside more established players in the space.

GamCrowd: What are your future plans for Geektastic?
Rick Brownlow:
We aim to be the go-to destination for validating the tech skills of a candidate. As we grow we expect to have more and more developers already registered and profiled on the platform meaning clients simply enter the candidates’ details and they immediately see the results. Nobody wants to do 10 technical screens when they are applying for a role, with screens taking anything from one to 10 hours; this is a waste of time when Geektastic, through its skilled community can showcase your talent at the click of a button.