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I’m tired of the opportunists and their hackathons (ryanleecarson.tumblr.com)
246 points by ryancarson 703 days ago | comments


olivercameron 703 days ago | link

I'm not entirely sure what hackathons Ryan Carson has been to, but this post is seriously misguided.

Developers don't go to hackathons to be "code monkeys", rather they go to build something cool in a fun environment. It's often a great break outside of the day job to build something they would otherwise not have the motivation to. No one is stealing their concept or forcing them to take it further, it's just fun.

As for hacker mansions, people like to live with like-minded folk and code. What's wrong with that? I fail to see how people are being exploited here. Perhaps some examples would help.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

I agree with you on the reason Developers go to hackathons. That's why they're so likely to be taken advantage of. I'm simply saying that the young developer community needs to be wary.

Regarding "hacker mansions" a cursory read of this job posting should reveal what I'm referring to: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3961037

It's clearly written by someone who thinks they can throw material things at a Developer and then get them to work 20-hour days for three months straight.

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olivercameron 703 days ago | link

I'm just not entirely sure how someone can be taken advantage of at a hackathon. Are you implying that someone will steal their product? Or that they'll somehow be convinced to give up a large % stake in their project by someone who can't code? Again, an example of a hackathon where this has happened would be great. Besmirching the name of hackathons in general is wrong.

As for hacker mansions, the post you linked to opens with "Like the idea of living/working in a Palo Alto hacker mansion?". If the answer to that question is no, then the likelihood is you wouldn't apply to this job.

I disagree with your assessment that this ad is "clearly written by someone who thinks they can throw material things at a Developer and then get them to work 20-hour days for three months straight". From my perspective, they're offering an amazing summer experience for the right candidate who wants to work with them. This ad is clearly not aimed for experienced developers, but rather young folk who are looking to get experience in the startup community.

Let's not forget that employment is at will, so if someone is not enjoying working at such a place, they can leave at any time. I, for one, know a bunch of people who love and thrive in such environments. As for "20-hour days", that's just a number you've thrown out. Who's to say you couldn't have a great work/life balance at a hacker mansion?

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

You can be taken advantage of simply by participating. Hackathons that are tacked on to events are a great example: they're simply a way to sell more tickets. I've been guilty of this in the past on shows we've done (Twitter's Chirp conf, etc).

Can good things happen at these hackathons? You bet. That doesn't mean Developers shouldn't be careful though.

As for "20-hour days", that's just a number you've thrown out. Who's to say you couldn't have a great work/life balance at a hacker mansion?

The whole point of a "hacker mansion" is to work 7 days a week for three months straight.

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borski 703 days ago | link

Living in a hacker mansion right now, I can guarantee you that isn't the case.

Our hacker mansion is filled with people working on different companies, at different stages (some funded, some not, some with customers, some without, etc.), and all of whom add something interesting and different to the diversity of the house. I take _at least_ 1 day a week off, often two. But frankly, sometimes others have to tell me to, since I love what I'm doing.

In short, hacker mansions can work out great if the people there are vetted, smart, passionate, and okay with having social lives. If you get together a group of people who are only going to work 24/7, guess what, they'll work together and burn out together. That's not the house we built.

Furthermore, I get to hang out with deer and wild turkeys while I relax in an enormous house with killer amenities; I wouldn't have the money to pay for that myself. I code and run my business mostly from our shared office space in Palo Alto.

(Full disclosure: this is a separate and entirely different hacker house from the one ryancarson is talking about, but a hacker house nonetheless.)

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borism 703 days ago | link

ok, ok. but hacker mansion? I mean, seriously...

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borski 703 days ago | link

Fair. I don't like the term either, but it was the OP's and I decided to use it. :)

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olivercameron 703 days ago | link

Have you ever lived in a hacker house? I haven't, and if you haven't, then I don't think either of us are in the position to say the whole point of living in a hacker house is to work non-stop. You simply don't know that.

Of course lots of work is going to get done at such a place, but who said that the experience and fun wouldn't also be incredibly beneficial to a young developer?

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koko775 703 days ago | link

I lived in the Palo Alto hacker house for a time. It wasn't "rah-rah entrepeneurs!!!" - though it had some - it was just a comfortable place to talk with people on similar wavelengths.

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jmtame 703 days ago | link

I've lived in 3 hacker houses (still living in one now), and it's been a nice place to live with like-minded individuals. It's equal parts fun and hard work.

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geraldalewis 703 days ago | link

> they're simply a way to sell more tickets.

That doesn't sound like taking advantage; that sounds like quid pro quo. Developers are buying tickets to attend a hackathon.

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pbiggar 703 days ago | link

Can you explain how exactly I could be taken advantage of by going to a hackathon?

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SimHacker 702 days ago | link

The Plone community had "Castle Sprints": http://plone.org/events/sprints/past-sprints/castlesprint

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sbisker 703 days ago | link

On that note, I really wish commenting was turned back on for HN job postings. I understand why they were turned off - people trying to expose anonymity for instance - but since they left, I feel like I see worse and worse postings, with little repercussions - or at least community feedback - to the companies who post...

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philwelch 703 days ago | link

Comments were never "on" for HN job postings.

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sbisker 703 days ago | link

Ok, strictly speaking, YC companies would just post the jobs as regular submissions, and the job posting category came in part to shut off commenting. The point remains the same though.

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Zak 703 days ago | link

That ad is for an internship, not a hackathon. It offers room, board and $3333/month. That's a better offer than most summer jobs for college students and more money than most students would make freelancing. Unpaid internships are still disturbingly common. The ad makes it clear that real work is expected. I really don't see a problem here.

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pbiggar 703 days ago | link

I fail to see how this is taking advantage.

A typical intern wage in the Valley is 5-6K per month. This is 10K for a 12(?) week stint. The pay is a bit low, but it sounds like included perks make up for it. That rent must be about $1500 per person per month, bringing the total salary up to 14.5K - not significantly less than the standard.

A lot of young developers like this lifestyle - I know I did (I am sadly not 22 anymore). Just because it isn't the right lifestyle for you (and other people with families and responsibilities) doesn't mean people are being taken for a ride.

Edit: I now see that that 10K is for 10 weeks, bringing the salary right into the middle of the "normal" Valley intern range (aka higher than most American's highest lifetime salary)

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drumdance 703 days ago | link

I think it's about expectations. I would never sign up for the project you linked to, but that's because I'm a 40-something serial entrepreneur. OTOH if I were a college CS major I would seriously consider it.

My biggest regret career-wise is that as a young coder I never got a chance to work on cool projects and find mentors. I had to create those projects on my own without much guidance.

The company running that ad should realize they will likely attract developers who are pretty green. If so, no harm no foul. If they expect an experienced rock star to show up, they are delusional.

An inexperienced rock star might show up, but they should treat that as a happy accident.

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larrys 703 days ago | link

"It's clearly written by someone who thinks they can throw material things at a Developer and then get them to work 20-hour days for three months straight."

Clearly? Given it's almost certainly not a 9 to 5 job. But I fail to see anything that indicates the job is consists of "20-hour days for three months straight".

As an aside part of being young (or not knowing about something when you are old) is learning from experience. Even though I don't necessarily agree that this involves 20 hour days, it seems like a reasonable paid opportunity and a good environment. If I wanted to break into TV, I would totally think it was reasonable to spend time as a 24 hour a day personal assistant to an important person doing whatever needed to be done to make connections.

FWIW I spent some time recently doing free work for a VC in something I know about. And, viola, they are now sending me paid customers. Just like that. I gave them hours and hours of my time (with no expectation of any return) and it has paid off.

I really think you have the wrong attitude toward this situation.

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mekarpeles 703 days ago | link

Sometimes it's not about opportunism. I live in a 4 bedroom hacker house with 11 entrepreneurs/programmers. It's cramped, we have bunk beds and sleeping bags. I've personally never been happier.

Despite many of us being (second time) founders of companies, contractors, or having jobs, we hack together several times a week, work 14+ hour days (including weekends), manage CodeSF events monthly, find time to attend hackathons together, and learn + share knowledge together at our local hackerspace, Noisebridge.

Yes, there are opportunists in the world who want to make a quick buck.

There are also a lot of people who are genuinely enthused (obsessed) with computer science and who devote their lives to knowledge... Who learn how to implement JK flip flops on a breadboard, build languages entirely from lambda calculus, and study convex optimization in their free time. More importantly, they do so because they love hacking, not because they love being a hacker (though I admit hacker culture and community is something I value).

At this stage in my life, getting married and having a family would rob me of my youth more-so than any weekend hackathon -- but I'm sure this mindset will change sooner or later.

There are plenty of great hacker meetups and hackathons (Super Happy Dev House SHDH, for instance) and SF hackerspaces (Noisebridge, Hacker Dojo) which provide non-opportunistic methods for furthering your hacker-foo.

Ryan, I am not sure how many hackathons you've attended or possibly even hosted at "Treehouse Mansion", but it seems like you, especially, would understand the importance of hacker meetups and how to host one effectively. It's also possible you hire great engineers and not hackers, which is fine too.

Here is the _real_ problem: More people want to be hackers than are hackers. Many people only want the stigmas that comes along with being a 'hacker', a term whose meaning has been diluted and whose definition perpetually misrepresented and obfuscated by media.

In San Francisco, for instance, the terms entrepreneur and hacker have been squished uncomfortably close for my liking, partly as a result of media like Hacker News (who I'd argue contributes to the conflation of the term 'hacker' by catering primarily to a general technical startup audience).

I enjoy hacker news, admire Paul Graham and the rest of YC, and believe that anyone can launch a successful startup, with enough hard work and dedication. One problem is, great hackers are not always great entrepreneurs. Great entrepreneurs understand where there's demand for a hack, where many hackers simply want to work on the most exciting and technically challenging problems. Sometimes these two overlap beautifully (I think Stripe is a good example).

The bottom line is, movies like, "Social Network", and media like TechCrunch have spotlighted mergers and acquisitions, high valuations, and a party life style as hacker/entrepreneurial culture. From my experience, this has impacted hackathons in that judges favor high impact web 2.0 viable products over "righteous hacks".

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eli_gottlieb 703 days ago | link

There are also a lot of people who are genuinely enthused (obsessed) with computer science and who devote their lives to knowledge... Who learn how to implement JK flip flops on a breadboard, build languages entirely from lambda calculus, and study convex optimization in their free time. More importantly, they do so because they love hacking, not because they love being a hacker (though I admit hacker culture and community is something I value).

Somehow I don't think graduate students are in on this Valley subculture stuff.

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kragen 702 days ago | link

I guess you don't know a lot of CS grad students at Berkeley or Stanford then. When I lived in the Bay Area, I did (2000-2006); they were.

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mekarpeles 703 days ago | link

I appreciate your perspective. I can only speak from personal experience. I am a PhD dropout passionate about entrepreneurship and computer science (I must admit I gravitate more to hacker culture than valley subculture).

I think graduate school is actually a pretty good selector since many people attend graduate school because they are passionate about academia. I think Stanford is a good example of a source where graduate students have gone on to lead successful ventures in the valley.

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eli_gottlieb 702 days ago | link

I think we've accidentally conflated two things here.

Graduate school is certainly a good selector for invention: PhD school is all about research, and therefore invention, by definition. These folks in academia and in certain companies did found the hacker culture.

However, that hacker culture has now become strongly dissociated from Silicon Valley "hacker culture", which has by now become more about "innovation" and entrepreneurship than about actually building new, awesome stuff.

EDIT: It appears we're violently agreeing.

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jpdoctor 703 days ago | link

> They’re probably just trying to cash in on your youth and optimism.

It is the nature of optimistic youth that they rarely notice. And when they do, they quickly become old codgers (like the person typing this comment.)

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Jach 703 days ago | link

I don't think you're giving enough credit to the optimistic youth! They notice all right, most of them just don't care enough because all they really want to do is programming, motherfucker. After X years in the industry their passion might fade (and possibly their skill if they stop coding altogether), but it's not naïvety that gives rise to the occasional optimistic youth who gets screwed.

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edwinnathaniel 703 days ago | link

I think you're giving more credit than youth deserved. Almost all youth are exactly like that: naive.

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jrockway 703 days ago | link

Conclusion: the only thing in life worth doing is telling kids to get off your lawn.

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paulhauggis 703 days ago | link

"They’re probably just trying to cash in on your youth and optimism."

I find this about most companies, especially in silicon valley. Just look at Google or Facebook. They get 20 somethings right out of college and work them to the bone on a salary (IE: you don't get paid any extra).

Sure, you can go home at 5, but you most likely won't get a promotion when everyone around you is working until 7 or 8.

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drumdance 703 days ago | link

IME your description of twenty-somethings as cannon fodder is more common on Wall Street and at IT consulting firms than Silicon Valley. For example, everything I've read is that Facebook does not overwork their employees in the course of normal business.

http://www.quora.com/Facebook-Inc-company/What-are-the-avera...

In the very early days of a startup (< 50 employees), people often work crazy hours. But everything I've seen suggests that once you start to scale, crazy hours are less common except when deadlines loom.

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paulhauggis 703 days ago | link

"more common on Wall Street"

It's common with both.

"For example, everything I've read is that Facebook does not overwork their employees in the course of normal business."

This isn't what I've heard at all..from people working there now. These companies don't say you are required to work past 40 hours. However, it's part of the culture.

This is most likely because they hire right out of college and the employees have no obligations, which allow them to make work their life.

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alecco 703 days ago | link

Heard at ISOJ 2012: "Making software is easy. It's the journalism that's hard" (13th International Symposium on Online Journalism)

I can only speak of the Buenos Aires startup scene. It's even worse than OP states. For example, this weekend an organization called "Palermo Valley" (claims to be non-profit but runs on a .com) organized a "Geeks on a Plane" meetup. If you see the about us pages and speakers it's full of marketroids, SEO "experts", journalists and douchy business types. A hacker friend was there and reports: "I just went to a palermovalley meetup and it was crawling with nontechnical people and too loud to talk".

There was another conference-meetup oriented to startups recently, but not for programmers. One of the talks was about how to handle the "monkeys". It was basically how to manipulate and find ways to make junior programmers work overtime for free, and pay them less by giving away token gifts. And of course never hire people over 24 or "too experienced".

Make sure you get paid fairly for every hour of your work. They need us more than we need them.

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kragen 702 days ago | link

I'm the hacker friend in question (thanks!) and I seem to recall that you've come to and enjoyed a couple of hackathons at my place :)

I've also been disappointed with other nominally hacker-oriented events. I keep going to Argentine Bar Camps and keep being depressed at the lack of technical content other than infosec. (Argentina has a fantastic infosec community, which I have no interest in.)

However, I've been positively impressed with RubyAr and PyAr events. JSConf this weekend was apparently good too. Any other recommendations?

I think there are substantial realms of human endeavor where it's really true that "making software is easy," because they need software that's so easy that nonhackers can make it. I think that's a huge credit to all the hackers who have worked on software for making this stuff easy over the years. Unfortunately, it does result in some people thinking that that's all there is...

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petercooper 703 days ago | link

They don’t want to drink Red Bull all night and sleep under their desks.

Some of us do from time to time. It's fun. I've got a family, etc, but I like geeky extra curricular activities in the same way other people like gardening, hiking, or whatever.

All that said, I've seen the sort of hackathons Ryan's describing and they're a kind of stereotype in the same way "brogrammers" are a programmer stereotype. They're not the majority, they're just the cases people seem to be gossiping about. (Scoble has been to and written about quite a few good ones over the years, I think, and here in the UK, they're certainly more down to earth generally.)

So I think Ryan has a point for the opportunists' hackathons but not hackathons generally, and it's easy to misinterpret it that way.

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reledi 703 days ago | link

> It’s a joke and I’m tired of it. Developers aren’t monkeys in a cage who can’t wait to do the next “hackathon”. They’ve got families, bills to pay and every other pressure that normal people do. They don’t want to drink Red Bull all night and sleep under their desks.

Except I do want to do those things, and many others do as well. Not all developers have families or lots of bills to pay. Even those with lots of responsibilities enjoy the occasional hackathon.

If they don't appeal to you, don't go to them, but don't pass it off as a joke because there are many people that really do enjoy hackathons and get some value out of them.

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kumarm 703 days ago | link

>>If they don't appeal to you, don't go to them

By the same logic if we don't like OP's opinion, we should stop reading and may be stop questioning him instead?

People will and should question any new practice.

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kragen 702 days ago | link

How are hackathons a new practice? We've been doing them since the 1960s if not longer.

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mmahemoff 703 days ago | link

I feel that Ryan's conflating hackathons - 1-2 day coding events - with 2+ week residence situations where you would probably be trying to actually build a business.

Some developers do enjoy drinking redbull and sleeping under a desk because evidently they do it voluntarily. I don't see the problem with that.

What's missing from the arguments in the article? I'm generally a supporter of hackathons, but if I was to play devil's advocate and advise caution among developers, I'd say:

* Although the entry price is usually free/nominal, there's still the opportunity cost of your time. And hackathons can leave you pretty drained for the next day, so a weekend hackathon needs to be justifiably worth it in terms of the learning, fun, and/or social connections you'll make from it.

* Most hackathons nowadays are sponsored by companies wanting to promote their platforms among developers. If the focus or requirement is to use those platforms, you need to think hard about whether they're worth your effort.

* You will be subjected to pitches of varying lengths. I've witnessed "one day hackathons" which were half a day of preamble. So your hacking efforts may be minimal.

* Wifi access is critical and if the organisers haven't got their act together, you would have been more productive at home.

* You can learn a technology at a hackathon or you can build something cool. You will be disappointed if you expect to do both at the same event.

* If you're trying to start a business at a weekend, coding is probably not the way to do it. So if you're going to a pure coding hackathon with the aim of starting a business, you will probably be disappointed. (Startup Weekend etc make more sense for that.)

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Zak 703 days ago | link

I've been to two hackathon type events. I would have gone to more, but I was living in an area without much of a startup/hacker scene.

The first was SuperHappyDevHouse, following Startup School in 2006. It was mostly hackers working on their own projects and occasionally collaborating. I saw no evidence of anybody attempting to exploit anybody else, especially not non-hackers trying to get free work from hackers.

This was the second: http://hackd.it/. I've gone a couple times now, and didn't feel like there was any exploitation going on there. The ratio of hackers to non-hackers was good and people seemed to mostly be working on things they had a stake in.

A similar event run by non-technical people looking to get their ideas built cheap/free wouldn't be enjoyable for hackers, I expect. If you know an event is like that, don't go.

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wylie 703 days ago | link

Developers go to hackathons because they like to build things. What could be simpler to understand?

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mmphosis 703 days ago | link

Kinda like this...

Dear Hackers,

Here is the challenge:

Please create the next killer app, and give all the rights to me so I can take all of your work and make a bundle of cash. I know you like building things, and I like making money. Seems like a good arrangement to me. I might even throw in a free T-shirt.

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geon 703 days ago | link

Wait... Who in their right mind would work for free on someone else's project? And sign away the ownership of the code (non open source) for them to profit from?

Every programmer I know have more ideas than they will ever have time to finish. Why would they do something like that?

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MortenK 702 days ago | link

With the (hollow) promise of riches, connections or whatever else appeals to the young programmer.

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reledi 703 days ago | link

You've been going to the wrong hackathons then. If you look hard enough you'll find some where you don't need to sign anything, and if you can't find any, start planning one.

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njharman 703 days ago | link

And that is what this post is about. Looking hard enough.

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jarofgreen 703 days ago | link

In my experience it's the other way around. None of the hackathons I've been to in the UK have asked for rights. I'm sure if you looked you could find one, but clearly most aren't stupid enough to try.

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VBprogrammer 703 days ago | link

Throw in free Pizza and a few beers and I'll be there.

I would relish the opportunity to meet new people and work on something different.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

I understand that. It doesn't mean they're not being used though. If you want to build something, it's much better to get your friends together for a private session, then something put on by an events company or an incubator. As someone who used to put on events, I can speak with authority on motives: most Hackathons are just an attempt to sell more tickets to an event - not a genuine opportunity for Developers to build things.

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amirmc 703 days ago | link

I'm confused. Do people pay to attend hackathons? I can understand a contribution to costs (ie for pizza etc) if there are no sponsors but paying seems odd.

I've run one hackathon myself and it most of the feedback I got was quite positive. Off the top of my head, the things that people liked were; the chance to meet/work with new folks in a low-risk way, to try out some new tech/language/framework that they'd never got round to, do something within a short deadline.

Overall, it went pretty well and it I don't think anyone was (or felt) 'used'.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

Event organizers often attach a hackathon to their show in order to sell more tickets.

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jarofgreen 703 days ago | link

You say that several times, but the only time I've seen that it worked out the other way around. The conference had twice as many attendees as the hackathon; it was clear what more people were interested in. I realise one data-point is not proof, but you also haven't produced anything to back up your assertion.

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biot 703 days ago | link

I'm guessing that a big attraction is that these events provide motivation. It's like telling an athlete that if they want to exercise, they can do so any time on their own. There's no need to go to the olympics to do it there. However, most likely wouldn't mind being used because the benefits go both ways.

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akkartik 703 days ago | link

I wish we had more hackathons. Working intensely together is the best way for both sides to gauge each other. I consider myself a crusty old codger, and I'm tired of shotgun hirings where you are expected to work together like gangbusters after just an interview together.

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pud 703 days ago | link

I've never been to a hackathon but as a coder it sounds fun to me.

Not everything's about the money.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

Philip, you were at the Chirp Hackathon. Bam! :)

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itmag 703 days ago | link

Congrats at your comment id! Maybe you'll get a prize from pg :)

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

Ha ha - didn't notice. Well spotted :)

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wfrick 703 days ago | link

A lot of bitterness on behalf of the author against, essentially, people who don't have kids and choose to spend more of their time coding. Sure we don't want to drive people over the edge by encouraging everyone everywhere to work all the time, but this post makes it seem like anyone who makes different life choices than the author (not having a family) is somehow just getting swindled.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

I wasn't damning all hackathons. I coded through the night many times before I had a family.

I simply said "Think twice. They’re probably just trying to cash in on your youth and optimism."

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alecco 703 days ago | link

Another related issue are the startup accelerators claiming to be based on the Y Combinator model. Full of MBAs and no hackers in sight. They only offer office space, marketing advice, template spreadsheets, and a very tiny bit of money (none of it for paying workers).

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jefflinwood 703 days ago | link

I disagree with this - I've been to several hackathons/API hack days, and like anything I guess you could be exploited, but I don't really see it.

What's nice is not only did I get to focus on building one thing straight out from start to finish in the alloted time, but it's mine - I get to commercialize it, market it, etc.

I definitely wasn't exploited - for all three of the ones where I've won a prize, I was the driving force/sole developer/whatever, so there wasn't some evil "business guy" getting me to work for free :) For Startup Weekend, I pitched, no one wanted to build what I wanted to build, so I joined another team. No big deal.

One of the best ones I went to was simply a "you hack all night on your own thing, no distractions, we're just keeping the lights on and ordering pizza." I think it might have cost $10 for the space.

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pbiggar 703 days ago | link

Normally, the majority of comments disagree with the OP. That's the nature of commenting. But in this case, the disagreement is almost complete: I see only one comment slightly in agreement.

I have no idea where this post came from. I can only assume ryancarson is going to different hackathons and hacker houses than everyone else.

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Flimm 703 days ago | link

I just went to my first hackathon this weekend, and I quite enjoyed it. Doing a week-end project is much more fun in groups, and there is a final presentation to enjoy and aim for. For this particular hackathon, we had sponsors who offered us free food and five prizes of 2000 pounds each. Considering they were only twenty teams, that's really not bad.

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venturebros 703 days ago | link

Isn't pushing perks like 4-day work week,etc you do at your company the same thing you are talking about regarding trying to cash in on someones youth and optimism?

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

Theoretically, the people that benefit the most from 4-day weeks are Dads and Mom as they can spend 50% more time with their kids.

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EnderMB 702 days ago | link

A friend of mine used to work as a lawyer, and many of them used to get involved in mock trials, where they could test themselves on a complicated case and see how the other half does things.

Although this isn't much different and an argument against this post I do agree with Ryan Carson in that a lot of developers are judged on things they do outside of work, as if not going to hackathons or working on open-source projects makes you a worse coder than someone who does.

I work on my own projects from time to time, but I know many developers who treat it as a 9-6 job and a good number of them are far better than me. Carson is right in that there are a LOT of opportunists out there who are more than happy to take advantage of developers. I know people in my own area that use hackathons as a way to promote their own company, and while they're not "selling" this code they're definitely using it as a way to promote their business.

Should developers care? Probably not, but given the attitude towards developers in general more of them would do good to be more cynical.

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why-el 703 days ago | link

I have never been to a hackathon, but I do find the conditions of some of them a little strange. Why not provide normal work (call them fun if you want) hours for participants, say 8 hours distributed over three to four days? If your concern is people using the spare hours to work more on their products, well then great, make that part of the rules. In this case they will get three 8 hours shifts with all the support you can provide as an organizer, and the rest of the day they are on their own (StackOverflowing, real life feedback..). I can't help but notice that one of the reasons the author is complaining can be traced back to this let's-code-all-night type of deal. If only they can make that optional.

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drumdance 703 days ago | link

Reality intrudes. If you have a day job, or even if you're a student, it's hard to allocate 3-4 days to something that is not either paying the bills or contributing to your studies.

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rmason 703 days ago | link

I don't think you can tar and feather all hackathons. Some of the events I support are where groups unite to help charities or civic hacking that supports communities.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

Building things for charities is an entirely different thing. I should've clarified that in the article. I'm referring to for-profit ventures

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namank 703 days ago | link

Its a way for up and coming devs to get known; else we are left at at mercy of YOUR contact network which may not know about us.

Its also expedient in terms of time we have to invest pursuing that position.

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hanswesterbeek 703 days ago | link

Agree with Ryan. And besides, what good can possibly come from say 48 hours of caffeine-fueled chasing of shiny dangling objects. That's not how you make software

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jarofgreen 703 days ago | link

That's not how you make finished, polished, robust software, it's true.

Is it how you try out an idea, play with something new, experiment with a really rough prototype and get instant feedback? Yes.

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rodly 703 days ago | link

I'm surprised this article is on the front page of HN. If developers are not X but are Y, then surely all of these schemes to employ and get developers with X tactics will soon disappear for lack of efficacy.

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bmelton 703 days ago | link

I appreciate the sentiment greatly, and I'm only in the valley about once a month or so (and not in the startup circles) so I can't speak to how intentional the exploitation is, but from the other side:

At 34, I can hardly be considered the youthful optimist he casts us at. I have a life, and a family, but I really enjoy the occasional hackathon. In fact, I'd suspect that a lot of my best code is done without the distractions of the house and family -- without worrying about whether or not the lawn is getting too high, or needs watering, or if the dogs need feeding, or whether my kid needs help with her homework, or if there's a spider that my wife needs me to kill.

Lock me up in a room for a few days and give me root on a server and I'll bang something out, and I'm happy to do so. Working at home is rife with distraction, but working at the office is even worse, but while there are certainly hackathon environments that aren't conducive to productivity, most of them at least free the developers of any responsibility that isn't 'code production'.

In short, they're enjoyable if they're done correctly, and they're horrible if they aren't... but I've never felt exploited by them, so either it's unique to the valley or I've just done a good job of avoiding that sort of thon.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

Agreed - focused time without distraction is golden. But having experienced a lot of hackathons, they're just thinly veiled attempts at pushing ticket sales at events or ways for companies to get more work out of their staff.

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EternalFury 703 days ago | link

I think the point was: Do whatever makes you happy any way you want it, but don't project any particular model as the best or only way to reach the ultimate goal.

I can write great code alone, in my man cave, with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. It works for me. Coding in more public places also works for me. Coding in the backyard is great as well. Doing pair programming with a friend is also awesome.

But, I would never impose these various ways to code as being better or worse than any other.

Because Facebook got so rich so fast, there is definitely a crowd of people out there, who believe in silver bullets and who now claim that a hacker that won't join hackathons can't be good. That's nonsense.

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sparknlaunch12 703 days ago | link

>> "I have a Computer Science degree, but it’s been five years since I’ve written a line of commercial code, so now I employ very talented Developers to build product."

Where did you find these talented developers? Was it a hackathon?

While there may be some opportunists out there looking to exploit young coders, the vast majority are seeking to legitimately employ bright young/old talent. Well at least I thought so?

Has anyone had experiences of being exploited? Please share.

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

I found our Chief Product Officer by tweeting. Then he's recruited our entire Product Team through friend's recommendations.

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jaredsohn 703 days ago | link

One role of hackathons that I haven't seen mentioned here is they provide a way for developers and API makers to interact. For developers, it can helps them learn about different APIs in person by interacting with technical people from the offering companies. For companies with APIs, it helps them get developer mindshare, first-hand experience with how developers use their APIs, and offers the possibilities of having demos they can show future customers.

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believeUme 703 days ago | link

The problem for me is not so much the hackathon, but the commodified entrepreneur in general. The whole ecosystem of accelerators, incubators, and mansions generate innovation culture not innovation. Kind of like going to jazz school. A total oxymoron.

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tzaman 703 days ago | link

You have a point, but doing it every once in a while doesn't hurt (I do it once or twice per year), since it's a great way to meet new people (and opportunities)

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ryancarson 703 days ago | link

I still would steer clear of things like TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathons and the like. They're just a way for media orgs to get page views and generate buzz.

Yes, a couple folks at those kind of events get a lot of press and attention, but everyone else just wastes their time.

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tzaman 703 days ago | link

You are right - I'm not that familiar with the US scene, being from Slovenia (EU). My last hackaton was Copenhagen Startup Weekend, which I think is a similar event, since I "had" to code A LOT :) The good thing the emphasis was not on media/buzz, but connecting people (I guess that's why it was at Nokia HQ in Denmark :).

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koide 703 days ago | link

They don't even meet interesting people/new opportunities?

I truly have no idea, I live far, far away from the valley in a different world.

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exim 702 days ago | link

Hackathons are good demonstration of some underlying reasons why non-software engineers hesitate to call us engineers as well :)

Would you live in a house built during a "civil-engineerathon"?

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kragen 702 days ago | link

You must not be from the US, because apparently you haven't heard of Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses in buildathons, or the Amish, who do the same thing when they build their houses and barns. (Surely you've heard of a "barn-raising"?) Maybe you should watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0ph0rA-A9U

And you must not know much about construction, either, because there are regular contests where teams compete to see who can build houses fastest, which are well-known among people who work in construction. Unfortunately I'm not one of them, so I don't remember what they're called.

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rabidsnail 703 days ago | link

I think it's time to dust off the word "carpetbagger".

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sneak 703 days ago | link

s/^I\'m tired of/Fuck/g;

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wamatt 703 days ago | link

" Developers aren’t monkeys in a cage who can’t wait to do the next “hackathon”. They’ve got families, bills to pay and every other pressure that normal people do. " - Ryan Carson

Really? So most hackers that go to these things have families?

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jsavimbi 703 days ago | link

People are comfortable when others in their class assume the chronology of traditional employment. In the office, nine to five Monday through Friday, drinks after work on Thirsty Thursday, see you on Monday again. That's called career stagnation and threatens no one, hence it's widely accepted.

The way out of stagnation is to develop methodologies and processes that take advantage of the inherent weaknesses of the stagnated. Rooming a bunch of guys together or maxing out on Red Bull isn't the answer. Finding smart, dedicated and talented people to work with and avoiding the bozos is.

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commonersense 703 days ago | link

Hmmm. How is this different from an incubator? Maybe the similarities are more interesting than the differences.

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