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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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?
That doesn't sound like taking advantage; that sounds like quid pro quo. Developers are buying tickets to attend a hackathon.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every programmer I know have more ideas than they will ever have time to finish. Why would they do something like that?
I would relish the opportunity to meet new people and work on something different.
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'.
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.)
I simply said "Think twice. They’re probably just trying to cash in on your youth and optimism."
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.
Is it how you try out an idea, play with something new, experiment with a really rough prototype and get instant feedback? Yes.
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".
Somehow I don't think graduate students are in on this Valley subculture stuff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not everything's about the money.
Its also expedient in terms of time we have to invest pursuing that position.
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.
Would you live in a house built during a "civil-engineerathon"?
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.
Yes, a couple folks at those kind of events get a lot of press and attention, but everyone else just wastes their time.
I truly have no idea, I live far, far away from the valley in a different world.
Really? So most hackers that go to these things have families?
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.