How to spot a bullshit hackathon

Being co-organizer of a meetup group, I often receive messages from companies asking us to promote their hackathon or conference. We always refuse to do such advertisement, unless we've already attended their events and appreciated it.

Last week, we received a mail about what I call a "bullshit hackathon". I've translated it to English and replaced the name of the company with FooBar. Enjoy your read and stay with me until the end, because I'm going to tell you what is bullshit about it.


We work for FooBar, a start-up organizing innovation contests and hackathons!

We wanted to tell you about an innovation challenge that would greatly interest you as well as your meetup members!

That's why we invite you to the FooBar Challenge, organized by IBM in cooperation with BRED, in partnership with FooBar and revolving around the customer experience revolution.

We're asking you to develop the prototype of a web or mobile application, to be used internally, that should allow BRED to know more about its customers. Participants will have access to the Spark and Bluemix tools to develop their projects.

More than €15.000 worth of prizes are to be won by the three best teams. A trip to San Francisco (worth €3000/person), MacBook and Oculus virtual reality headsets!

To participate, you just have create a team and present a first PowerPoint document of 5 slides.

The FooBar, IBM and BRED teams.

Note: BRED is a French bank.

If you don't see what is wrong with that message, let me explain.

First of all, refrain from adding exclamation marks everywhere! It's annoying! It made you look foolish! And trust me, you don't need that!

You "want to tell me about something that will greatly interest me and my meetup members"? I don't think so. You actually are desperate to have developers going to your hackathon and working for free. It seems like in your head hackathons are a cheap way to get developers to do your work for you. Feed them with pizza and beer, give them a Hipster MacBook and a geeky Oculus and they'll do whatever you ask them to do.

Because that's what you do. You are asking to develop a prototype. That's not the spirit of a hackathon, where you build whatever you want. Here it looks more like a classical set of specifications for your average day job project. And look what kind of project, an internal tool for a bank to know more about their customers. That's not anybody's dream project. That's more like the kind of app you'd build because that's your job and you have no other choice. I might be exaggerating a bit here, some people may like building this kind of app, but that's not the point. The point is that you do not tell people what to build in a hackathon.

Oh, and you're too kind to let the participants use Spark. You know, because Spark is OSS and no-one need your approval to start using it.

At that point in reading the email, I was already convinced that this thing, whatever that was, was a hackathon only by name. But the final selection on with a 5-slides PowerPoint was the nail to the coffin. First you're doing a filter before it even began, and then you're doing it on a bullshit PowerPoint?

Haha, thanks but no thanks.

I hope that other "hackathon organizers" will read this and work a bit more on understanding what a hackathon actually is before sending those pathetic emails.

Tags : #bullshit, #hackathon

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