Please Don’t Fuck Up the Hackathons

I came to Bangalore few months back attracted by its humming tech culture, lots of meetups and even more so, hackathons. I work as a freelancer, I have no other purpose here. And I was not disappointed until recently. Honestly, I don't even know what definition of word "hackathon" has for Bangalore. I'd quote Paul Graham here, "the city sends you a message". Bangalore certainly doesn't give a message of freedom or even innovation, the message I heard when I came here was that of "milk whatever you can". People running after money. End of story. But it still has a (relatively) pretty healthy tech-culture.

I believe hackathons are meant for open innovation. An event where people go and build something, anything that come to their mind. I don't mind themes. But giving me a "problem statement" to work on is ridiculous. It is no more a hackathon when you want everyone to climb the same tree to "win". I don't go to hackathons for "winning" them. I don't know what kind of geek does that. Hackathons are for hackers, for having fun, for our happiness, for teasing the brain muscles which we can't utilise in our day jobs. The word "hack" in hackathon means innovation. Anything useful that comes out of a hackathon is a by-product, never the primary goal. It's sort of paradoxical.

Beauty of a hackathon is that there is no stressful competition. There is nothing to compare against, which lead to a very healthy kind of competition (which might not even be called competition). I'd suggest to read this if you'd like to better understand the spirit of a hackathon.

The one major piece of crap that I think is on the way to ruin hackathons in Bangalore (at least) is this company called Venturesity. Their main idea is to organize hackathons for companies so they can hire the winners (or whomever, may be). But the way they organize the event is what bothers me. They give 2-3 problem statements and ask people to solve them. Recently they've also made it compulsory to have a "design document" for the problem statement they send one day before the event.

If some company actually want to hire some good hackers, then this (venturesity) monkey-business is definitely not what they should be doing. You kill the spirit of the hackathon, reduce it to a mere race where everyone is climbing the same tree, and then you judge them to "hire" them? Is this the best Bangalore's hackers could come up with? There are so many things you could innovate, and you chose the same retarded system of master race that's ruining education in our country. I don't personally know the people behind venturesity, but I can bet there is some academic from some big-shot school pulling the strings.

Interviews are not perfect, may be not even good, I agree with you there. But this ventursity hackathon hiring shit is a step backward. It is a night long exam which is anything but fun. When I look at this situation, I don't see Venturesity solving a problem, they are milking an opportunity which is not theirs to milk (you are not fucking hackers, stay away from hackathons). They are in fact creating a problem of their own. Soon people will follow the suit and in worst case Indian hackathons will all be this bullshit Venturesity does. World is full of monkeys you see. We all know how everything gets an Indian version, and I don't want this to be Indian version of hackathons.

In the end, if there's someone from ventursity reading this or if someone can take this message to them, I'd like to personally say something. My problem is not with companies using this strategy for hiring, or with Venturesity doing business. My problem is with you calling it a hackathon. Please stop calling your events hackathons. Because they are fucking not. Call them hire-e-thons or night-long-exams-because-we-couldnt-innovate or whatever, but please don't call them hackathons. It gives a very wrong message to the community about what a hackathon is.


Once again with due respect, please don't ruin one good thing in Bangalore I love, it's tech culture.


So I got a response from Venturesity after a friend posted this post in their private group. This is what they said and my reply:

Venturesity: The problem statements are well-defined practical problems which our clients are trying to solve themselves. Though they may seem rigid at times, they leave enough room for creativity and innovation. Our asking for a design document ensures serious participation.

There will be stress when anyone tries to program/debug anywhere. But we try to make the event as less stressful as possible. There is always good food/music/dance to take the edge off.

We appreciate the criticism, Charanjit :)

Me: Putting a theme on a hackathon is the restriction which encourages innovation, giving a "problem statement" is not. I don't think it matters how well defined the problem statement is, you simply change the meaning of the word hackathon when you push a problem statement for everyone.

What do companies want to achieve with the venturesity hackathons? Good hackers as employees. Is racing the only way to do that? Say Stayzilla want employees who can work in hotels domain. They gave us problem statements and looked for people who demonstrated the qualities required to solve those specific problems, and who can race. If they had chosen to just theme that hackathon saying “theme is stay in hotels (or something more creative), and we'll judge projects by 1. data mining fu 2. Our API fu 3. Whatever their third problem statement was

Companies are putting a lot of money in there, they should be clear about what they want and try not to damage the culture. If they want to hire "hackers" with vision and creativity along with the ability to code, they should innovate and change their approach here a bit.

If all the companies want are code-monkeys who race all day to achieve goals in cubicles, then that is fine too. Just don't call it a hackathon. Because it is not. When you give a too restrictive (or even open) "problem statement" you killed the hack of hackathon, it's just a (mar)athon that is left behind.

I respect companies for putting the money and for showing openness for hiring. May be they are expecting to see innovative solutions to some of their problem statement (like you said) that they can use from the hackathon. But won't it be better if they let people truly innovate in aspects the company has not thought of yet? They might get something they haven't even imagined/envisioned yet, and they will surely get the most innovative minds which they can then use for solving the problem statements they actually need solved.

I don't want to be too mean, but I didn't really expect Venturesity to see the problem here. If they could, they would've seen it by now.

Also design documents is not a solution to their problem of "serious participation". Have you never participated in some big hack before? Just copy ‘em if you can't participate. Why don't you ask people to submit ideas, and have their github/linkedin/resumes (you already collect that info) and filter ‘em by hand. Design Document thing is more bad than problem statements.

PS Stress in a hackathon is a luxury. We love it. That is the prime motivator in a hackathon for pushing to the limit.