Hackathons Are A Pain

Hackathons are these competitions where a group or individual builds some application in a short timeframe.  I suppose it is a marathon of “hacking.”  There are typically two kinds of hackathons, public or internal to companies.  While there is something special and exhilarating about staying up all night and building a functioning application to present, more often than not it is completely not worth it.  Let me share some examples from my life to help you decide if you should participate in one.

Lame Team Members
I participated in the hackathon with a friend and some other guy.  I was building the iOS app, my friend was doing design work, and the third guy (I will call him ‘J’) was making the landing page and doing some backend work.  There were a lot of problems with the team, but the biggest problem was with ‘J’.  He was supposed to parse some public dataset into a SQLLite database to load into the app.  SQLLite doesn’t have a date type, so I asked him to parse out the time pieces so I can sort and filter better.  His “know-it-all-nerd” friend told him not to do it because he figured I could do some transformations on the date or something idiotic.  I had told him this wasn’t performant, but he seemed to not care.  I was doing the majority of the work for the project, and then I had to also take on another teammate’s work.  Thanks know-it-all-nerd guy.

Judging Criteria
In another hackathon, I was again building an iOS app.  I admit I wasn’t the greatest teammate, but we had a working demo by the end.  To my surprise a lot of teams didn’t have working demos and just had powerpoint presentations.  In the end, a lot of teams that won awards were merely powerpoint presentations without any working code.  It seems the ‘hack’ part of the ‘hackathon’ was a suggestion.

Empty Promises
There was a hackathon at my company that my buddy participated in.  The promise was that the winning team of the hackathon would get time and resources to get their project into production.  My friend’s team won but unsurprisingly the project was never prioritized and never made it to production.  I’ve actually heard this happen at a lot of companies.  Though to be honest, sometimes the projects do make it out into production.  It can be hit or miss.

Hopefully these anecdotes can help you make a better decision on whether or not to join a hackathon.  In the end it is your time and sleep so do as you please.

Good Luck,
-Larry

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