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Why I am not going to attend Hackathons anymore

shobhitic profile image Shobhit🎈✨ ・3 min read

Originally published on my blog.

There was a Hackathon by our local government a few days back and the whole situation was insane. They almost brought me to tears.

It was a 36-hour Hackathon and it felt like torture for the participants. Some of them fainted, some of burned out, and I could see the “passion for coding” vanish from their eyes.

I had a follow-up discussion, two days after the event with the participants and most of them were of the opinion that they don’t want to code for some time. They burned out.

Was it really worth it? If you kill yourself to haphazardly finish a project in X hours, and then burnout and be unproductive for the next month, is it really justified to do so?

Problems with Hackathons

1. The toxic culture

Hackathons promote a toxic culture where you’re supposed to write code because you’re passionate about coding, in a highly caffeinated, intoxicated environment. This not how you work daily, in a sustainable manner.

You need proper sleep to work well, and create something worthwhile, of good quality.

You need good food in your stomach, and a clear focused mind to complete your project.

Hackathons are the exact opposite of these. They provide you with access to lots of Pizza, Beer, and Coffee. Alcohol and Caffeine might help you focus in the short term, but they are diuretics and you lose more water in the long term.

2. Exclusive

It’s not really inclusive because only young developers, with no responsibilities and ample of free time can manage to participate.

Women tasked with the household responsibility won’t be able to participate. Senior developers, with kids waiting for them don’t participate. Developers with back-pain, who are not allowed to sit for a long time, won’t participate.

Only the naive junior developers, with no previous burnout experience are the people I’ve seen participating and enjoying Hackathons.

3. Social and distractions

I can either code or I can be social and meet other people. I can’t do both at the same time, or else I won’t be able to do anything well.

If you want me to socialize, create a social event where expectations are clear, and if you want me to code, create a distraction free environment. The current system doesn’t give me the freedom to focus on anything, consequently making it a waste of time.

In conclusion

Hackathons really screw up your health and lead you to a burnout, mess with you sleep cycles, and create bad code quality. Most of the projects made in a hackathon go nowhere.

As I start getting older (and hopefully wiser), I realize that a sustainable work rate is always better than this burst of code.

Hackathon’s most powerful idea is to do focused work on something other than your daily job. I think that’s Hackathon organizers should embrace that, but their motives are very different.

A Hackathon I’d like to organize would give people time constraint, and allow them to do other things during the event. Work for 8 hours on a new thing, and then done, go home.

After all, Hackathons are a wordplay on Marathons, then why do they feel like an unsustainable sprint?

Posted on by:

shobhitic profile

Shobhit🎈✨

@shobhitic

Android developer since 2011. Rails developer since 2012. If you want to connect with me, twitter DM is the best way to do it. Email: shobhit@pushcape.com

Discussion

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I agree with you to some extent. But there are some points on which I have a different point of view.

  1. The aim of a hackathon: The aim is to provide a distraction free environment. On normal days, can you and your teammates work on a cool project uninterrupted for more than 2 hours? Doubtful. Plenty of distractions like WhatsApp, Instagram, FB etc. But in a hackathon - you can actually make something worth sharing.
  2. The food provided isn't healthy - sure, but they don't put a limit on water do they? You have to stay hydrated. Also most hackathons are organized by students who don't have a budget for a proper meal.
  3. Regarding only naive young devs participate. I think there is a solution. Senior devs should guide the junior devs to make the product in the timeframe. They don't necessarily be present for 36hours. They can rest making the case for back-pain and mothers valid.
  4. Coding and socialization is a tough one. Doing both together is really hard. Can't argue there.

Most hackathons project don't go anywhere- in India sure. But what I learned from that time was invaluable. Sure the burnout was real and I didn't code for 2 weeks after. But don't look at the short term, my experience was very valuable later and I learned somethings on which I reflected on in those 2 weeks.

 

The aim of a hackathon: The aim is to provide a distraction free environment. On normal days, can you and your teammates work on a cool project uninterrupted for more than 2 hours? Doubtful. Plenty of distractions like WhatsApp, Instagram, FB etc. But in a hackathon - you can actually make something worth sharing.

So this is actually why I proposed a "hackathon" at my company where developers are not to be interrupted for a stretch of time. That allowed them to focus and come up with some really cool prototypes.

 

If you are referring to 8 hours - I believe you need more time than that to translate an idea to code. In my opinion 24-36 hours are optimum.

 

I'd be careful with words like toxic. I don't think there's anything wrong with these bursts of work, as long as it's your ow choice to participate, and there's no pressure to enter. (I don't know if this pressure exists when the company you work for organizes a hackathon, for example). I think it can be extremely valuable to take something from idea to completion under a tight time constraint.

I do like the idea of trying to create a form of hackathon that doesn't wreck your sleeping patterns as much. If you could somehow ensure that code doesn't leave the physical room in which the hackathon happens, you could prohibit people from woking outside the hours of 9AM-5PM, but still spread the event over multiple days.

 

Hackathons may suit for students and who are still young and have much energy (no offense here).
its waste of time for me.
To learn something new, join sharing experience meet-up or short 2-3 hours coding only.
To make some interesting usable or continuable products, even 36 hours is NOT enough.
I prefer going to Gym, hangout, or socializing than burning out all of my energy :D

 
 

Thank you, I just came from my first hackathon, I am a 36 yo engineer that works mainly with electronics and programming is my hobby, my team did a really solid job but was not one of the "5 chosen" out of 200 teams. We felt the judging was unfair and mainly unprofessional, not trying to sound like a bad loser here but the main thing I felt was that our time was wasted. Probably because in our case none of the teams had a chance for a pitch time to explain our ideas, only the top 5 based in the very subjective and personal view plus the randomness of the judges as not all judges saw all projects.

It felt like a waste, maybe if it is focused to younger devs on a more even and fair scenario, but the way I lived it was not fun and enjoyable in any way.

 

I recently entered a hackathon in Europe
My team had a complete working solution
And there were 1-2 other credible ideas but none with working code
The contest had three segments two segments were sponsored by enterprises from country A and one segment from country B
My team took part in the section judged by Country B
As the judging went on we discovered many teams had nothing but a PowerPoint and one team even didn’t have a PowerPoint.... they scratched something on a whiteboard and presented pictures of those drawings. When asked what language one uses for Ethereum smart contracts this team answered Python. This was one of the eventual winning teams !!

Anyway, eventually the country A sections were awarded to teams from country A, and country B prizes went to teams from country B.

The goal of inviting teams from overseas like mine is to make this look like some international event when infact the winners were already predetermined...like I alluded to earlier they could put up a handrawn diagram and still win.

I have unfortunately been to several of these farcical events and would warn foreign teams from traveling to these fake Hackathons and accelerator pitch days which are simply vehicles to award prizes to whichever local company however useless.

 

Women tasked with the household responsibility

care to elaborate on that one?