Why I am not going to attend Hackathons any more

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?

Comments on Reddit.

4 thoughts on “Why I am not going to attend Hackathons any more

  1. I am sorry but, I don’t agree with your view on hackatons.

    If you don;t enjoy the type of activity it is, which is mostly social, you get to network, you get to see code and ideas you’ve not yet seen, you get to talk with possible teammates or future employers. No one is forced into coding all the time, most hackatons provide free food and drinks with variety in mind, caffeine is optional not a requirement.
    I have also been to hackatons that had a beanbag room for people that wanted to rest/sleep for a bit.
    You seem like you’ve had a terrible hackaton that has left you a bit scared and your writing looks emotional rather than neutral and rational.

    Hope you change your mindset after a good one.

        1. I second what Angel Petrov says. Every hackathon I’ve been to has been an exceptionally valuable and pleasant experience. Especially the most recent, ETHDenver. There was an entire floor of the building dedicated to R&R, bean bags and soothing music. If anyone felt pressured by anything but their own dedication to the project, it CERTAINLY wasn’t by the hackathon leaders themselves. Speaking about experiences in the USA, in Chicago, Denver and San Francisco.

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