Why most hackathons suck today.

desafected "cool" zone

If you never heard of a hackathon, it’s a short event where hackers regroup in teams to build a product. They have 24 or 48 hours to create something that works for real. It’s intense, tiring, fun and very inspiring.

Usually projects have to involve some kind of innovative technology and must have positive impact on our world.

Unfortunately, today most hackathons suck. Why do they? Let me explain it to you.

1. Because they are cool

Hackathons weren’t always cool, they became cool. Since media sold us the started-in-a-garage-million-dollar-startup story, hackathon became a buzzword. People want hackathons, companies want hackathons. Everybody wants to try the delightful experience.

Let’s get it right : It’s not a place where cool kids hang out, neither the last must-have accessory for your company. It’s just real people making real things because they enjoy it. Everyone who doesn’t see it that way may harm the experience.

During my last hackathon, most of the teams spent all weekend debating gathered around tables. When I asked one guy what they were going to deliver, he told me “don’t worry, it’s an ideological hackathon”. How can you say that ? The whole point of the hackathon is that it’s not ideological. You come Friday with an idea, you leave Sunday with a prototype. It’s not the right place if you want to enjoy conversational debates with friends and some drinks.

2. Because there are not enough developers

If there is only one developper per team, I understand that it can be difficult to produce something in 2 days. I saw team leaders literally fighting between each other to grab the few developers available.

As a developer I am always glad to give tips to beginners. The problem is when most of the team is working on the presentation slides while one or two devs are clearly making all the job by themselves.

Business schools students gentrified hackathons and developers did their thing somewhere else. Somewhere where it’s not mainstream, yet.

3. Because companies want you to work for free

After over-mediatisation comes over-commericialisation. Hackathons are believed to be the elixir that can cure all diseases.

Problems with employees? Organize a hackathon. Need more clients? Organize a hackathon.

Some startups even specialized into selling packaged hackathons to big companies. In this scheme, developers are nothing more than a part of the product they are selling.

Because you are a developper, some companies expect you to be grateful if you spend all your weekend working on their problems for free. Yes, that’s how they think it works because you are a developper after all…

4. Because people wants you to work for free

More and more non-technical participants come to hackathons only to find developers. If you think about it it’s almost like going to mass to pickup girls.

Most of the time, they already have their own project, and they will fit it in the hackathon’s theme whatever it is. There’s nothing bad of helping them doing the work, but the whole idea is against the spirit.

What’s next?

Of course there are still great hackathons, and I will continue to be part of it. I’m just making a general statement that since their purpose changed, their quality is falling in a terrifying way.

Developers, chose wisely. Organizers, think accordingly.

Bruno Pérez is developer and co-owner at Buddyweb, digital agency in Paris, France. Follow his stories on Twitter.