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8/5/2013
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MetLife IT Site Runs On MongoDB, Microsoft Azure

Rapid development and cloud hosting let MetLife create IT talent recruiting site in less than a week.

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MetLife's IT department is hiring, but first you have to pass a little test at Synapse, a recruiting site that took 48 hours to develop and even less time to host on Microsoft's Azure cloud.

MetLife is seeking developers, business analysts, infrastructure engineers, architects and program managers, but it's hoping for people who know -- or who are smart enough to figure out -- Javascript Object Notation (JSON). JSON was chosen because it's the native storage format for MongoDB, a NoSQL database used extensively by MetLife. The Synapse site itself was built with MongoDB, and it presents candidates with a JSON schema and rather cryptic instructions for submitting resumes in JSON code.

"People have been submitting resumes in the same way for 20 years: Word documents and PDFs," said Gary Hoberman, senior VP and CIO of regional application development, in an interview with InformationWeek. "The data in these files isn't something you can easily mine or search, so imagined what it would be like if we could open up that data in a semi-structured way."

[ Want more on MongoDB development at MetLife? Read MetLife Uses NoSQL For Customer Service Breakthrough. ]

MetLife reasoned that JSON submissions are more structured and searchable than conventional documents, and the very act of submitting documents in that format is a kind of filter, screening out talent that can't handle the task. The schema requires key fields, such as name, address and contact information, to be included to pass a validation step, but beyond that, candidates are free to be as creative as they care to be are able in formatting the submissions.

"You can still go through our traditional website, Metlife.careers.com and apply for the same jobs, but we view this as an alternate means to find the kind of new talent we're after and it's for somebody who wants to go above and beyond," said Hoberman.

Hoberman credits MongoDB's ease of development for the rapid results -- just three days of design work and two days of actual development work. MongoDB also served as the cornerstone of the MetLife Wall, a breakthrough internal customer service portal that the insurer brought into production just 90 days after initial pilot tests. The system takes advantage of the NoSQL database's aplomb at ingesting structured, semi-structured and unstructured information to bring together data from more than 70 separate administrative systems, claims systems and other data sources.

Speed of development and document-handling capabilities were the main considerations behind the choice of MongoDB for Synapse, and speed of deployment figured in the choice of Microsoft's Azure Cloud for hosting the site.

"We had just signed a deal for Azure services for a very large customer-facing project we're working on, so we already had the contract and services in place and we were able to spin up two servers within about 10 minutes," Hoberman said.

MetLife is using Azure in part because the insurance company works with many Microsoft partners and in part because it's a known quantity from a security and compliance perspective.

"We did look at Amazon and it might have been appropriate, but we had already done a lot of due diligence with Microsoft that proved that we could rely on them for both security and reliability, so that gave us a head start," Hoberman said.

Beyond MongoDB, MetLife used other open-source components including Node.js as the application server instead of a WebSphere or .Net container. These are choices that get back to MetLife's talent requirements and its unorthodox recruiting site.

"We're looking to use new technology, not the technology you typically see in insurance companies," said Hoberman. "Thus, we're looking for talent that's comfortable with new technology and that wants to do something different."

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