Leveraging an Alternate Reality Game to win in the Tech talent war…
“Attracting and retaining talent is the number one challenge in Financial Technology right now”, says Danie van Tonder, CEO of Fintec Labs, a tech firm in Stellenbosch.
“We are competing for talent with an increasing number of large players taking advantage of the digital revolution across all industries in South Africa. Whilst Cape Town is emerging as a hub for financial technology, Stellenbosch is certainly punching above its weight in the talent war” van Tonder says.
Earlier this year, Fintec Labs decided to up the ante. Traditional recruiting methods are notoriously ineffective in grabbing the attention of the top performing technology under-graduates at university.
“These aren’t your quintessential millennials – they are digital natives with deep tech skills. Hacking and problem solving comes naturally. We needed to earn their attention.”
My name is Osiris. The Agency is hunting me as we speak. Decipher the codes, solve the puzzles, help me rebuild. You are the key, Agent.
Osiris’ vision was to find individuals who are different; the crazy troublemakers who are constantly exploring new problems to solve, do whatever it takes to solve it, and get it done as quick as possible.
To achieve this, Fintec Labs acknowledged that they had to replace the conventional interview process by screening potential candidates on their creative and real-world problem-solving abilities.
“We immediately knew that an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) would be the best way to get exposure to the best problem solvers in town - with the added benefit of it being extremely exciting and showcasing Fintec Labs as an employer of choice” van Tonder said.
Osiris, an AI entity, would direct potential “agents” on a journey, requesting help to solve a list of puzzles and assist Osiris to “rebuild.”
“I was on my way to class”, says 2nd year student Andrew Prenter. “Stopping to cross a road, I noticed a peculiar white sticker posted on the side of a wall and pulled out my phone to snap a picture.
The sticker was in binary and had a strange symbol in the middle. I sent the picture to one of my group chats, asking someone to decipher the binary. Ten minutes later, a URL link was sent to my phone directing me to a website, simply titled o5i8i2 with this message:”
Hello… you know what you’re looking for
A quick google search indicated the location was in Stellenbosch, and at this point Andrew knew he was onto something big.
The website would initiate a countdown that ended exactly at midnight every Wednesday, after which a string of clues, jumbled coordinates, riddles, ciphers and mathematical algorithms needed to be solved to progress the story. Andrew was one of over 200 participants in the Osiris project, who were all led down a digital rabbit hole.
“I started seeing puzzles everywhere,” says another participant, who asked to remain anonymous. “I was obsessed, even chasing a few red herrings down dead ends. The Osiris project became part of my weekly routine the moment I found the first sticker.”
The event was localized in Stellenbosch, with clues forcing participants to work together to solve puzzles, often having them trek across town whilst the creators evaluated their progress anonymously, posing as players themselves.
All the participants were carefully monitored on Reddit and a WhatsApp group, dedicated to comparing clues and theorizing potential solutions. On more than one occasion, intervention from Fintec Labs was required to keep “agents” within the boundaries of the law.
One particular player miscalculated the coordinates of a clue and staked out a private homestead, before being re-routed by the moderators. Another group contemplated gaining “access” to a private vehicle, coincidentally owned by one of the moderators, whilst others scaled walls and even stalked one of the game creators.
“It was structured quite well,” says Luke Joshua. “There were interesting elements that required travelling to find clues around time and teamwork.”
“A hierarchy was forming and it was fascinating to witness,” says one of the creators. “Each player brought something different to the table, and they would distribute tasks to those who were more suited to solve puzzles faster.” This system created a phenomena of super-efficient problem solving. One of the game creators continues, “At one point we feared that we would run out of puzzles for the candidates to solve. Leveraging each other’s skillsets, the candidates were able to solve puzzles, that took our senior engineers a day to solve, in 15 minutes.”
Towards the end of the game, a group of ±120 agents were whittled down to 40 of the best and brightest Stellenbosch had to offer. The game concluded with a party at a well-known restaurant, requiring a passphrase to gain entrance.
Lucia Daly, a Computer Science student, had no idea who was behind it all but considered it to be a “seriously cool challenge.” Together with friends, she wanted to solve the meaning behind the stickers and reap the reward thereafter.
The reward, in this case, was entry to the exclusive internship program of Fintec Labs and preferred application to their Graduate program.
“Osiris reached its objectives of a cost-effective way to obtain talent and still do it in our unique way – it was loads of fun for everyone involved. I am very excited to see what the Graduates of 2019 will come up with to continue the story” says van Tonder.
More information on Osiris as well as Fintec can be found on the web: