Hackathons started out all fun and games: hackers/programmers would get together at someone’s house and just code on something through the night or over the weekend. They’d end up with something cool at the end of it and share with friends. For those who don’t know, hackathons are typically 1-3 day events where hackers, designers, and “idea people” come together to build an application around a particular theme.
Someone must have come along at some point and realized that they could give hackers some office space and snacks in return for getting cool engineers in the door and some brand recognition. These days, many hackathons exist to get engineers to build cheaply on branded platforms, integrate branded services, or just advertise for companies/brands. All of this in exchange for pizza and giveaways.
We’re a bit confused on what this all means. Some hackers can sustain a living by winning these hackathons. And then some hackers (myself included) feel this commercialization of hackathons has distorted and sullied what hackathons really mean to the hacking community.
Hackathons should be a platform for smart people to get together and build what they want. A place for friends to come together and meet new people over some beer. Hackathons shouldn’t be leveraged solely to build a company’s brand or build on a company’s product.
Why? It feels like it’s a cheap way for you to make money off the sweat of others. It feels tacky.
I’m not saying companies shouldn’t be kind to hackers and host hackathons. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do so. Hosted hackathons should retain their roots in the hacking community. They should be events where products, APIs, or services aren’t sold around a themed event.
Hackathons should be a challenge, not an excuse for companies to meet talent, pitch their products, or find new ideas to implement.