Before you criticise “hackathons”, don’t.

There are a lot of blog posts that criticise hackathons as a general concept, and without exception we think they all get one thing wrong.

Basically, the problem is people write about one specific practice at a hackathon and then use that to condemn all hackathons. In fact, there are many different and diverse ways to run a hackathon. So this is like trying a mango and not liking it, and then condemning all fruit.

Now, we have to be very clear we’re not saying hackathons are beyond criticism. Certain practices at hackathons can cause problems for some people, and this should be raised and discussed freely. But always try and do it in a way that specifically mentions the practice in question and don’t assume all hackathons are the same. Instead, maybe think about different ways you could run a hackathon that would help tackle the problem.

For example,

  • Some hackathons have such onerous terms and conditions that many people argue the sponsor is just trying to get people to work for free and then they will take the best ideas. This does happen sometimes. But not all hackathons do this.
  • Some hackathons encourage people to work all night. It is argued this excludes people with less energy or other commitments such as family. Again, not all do this – I’ve been at ones that encouraged you all to leave at 5pm.
  • Some hackathons feed people pizza all weekend. This is obviously not a healthy balanced diet. But don’t worry – many serve full meals and have fruit around.
  • Some hackathons focus on a business or startup plan. Some people argue not everything should be a business or a startup. Great! Some hackathons are specifically focused on social issues.

Basically, the term “Hackathon” is now applied to such a wide variety of practices that it has to some extent become meaningless. By all means, lets have criticism and constructive debate about certain practices. But don’t assume a particular practice you don’t like happens at all hackathons and write them all off.

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