I’m reading through the some of the news about the Salesforce Hackathon, and while I’m disappointed in the outcome, with a bounty that big I’m not surprised. The event organizers are focused on the one thing in a hackthon you can scale, which will not actually scale any value of the hackathon.
I’ve attended, sponsored, mentored and thrown many hackathons and anyone who is a lover of the hackathon knows that value of these events is never the resulting prize.
Like so much else in this world (ie. startups, college education), when you focus on just the end goal, and scaling, you will lose so much value and meaning along the way. The increasingly big bounty in hackathons has occurred right alongside the demise of this very valuable event format.
The best hackathons I’ve been at, were small in attendance, and size of the prize. Teams formed organically around a topic or cause, and people shared ideas, skills, knowledge and genuinely got to know one another in an intimate environment over good food and drink. They are never about the finished project or prize–these are all things you cannot scale. Sorry. 😦
Some of the worst hackathons I’ve been to were large in number of people and size of the prize. Nobody got to know each other, teams came pre-formed and things were so competitive even a 6’3 white male veteran programmer like myself felt intimidated by the competition, and the aggression.
I don’t think these big event holders know the damage they are doing to their own events, let alone to the entire hackathon space. They are taught bigger is better, when in reality they are turning off newcomers to the space, and turning away people like myself who thoroughly enjoy hackathons but really do not enjoy spending their weekends battling with even a handful of cocky young dudes, let alone several hundred.
If you are committed to focusing on the end goal of your college education (the degree), startup (the exit) or a hackathon (prize), you are missing out on so much good stuff in the middle in the form of relationships, experience, knowledge, skills and so much more. If everything is about scale to you, you probably will be focusing on some pretty empty aspects of this world, because the most important things in life do not scale.