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.
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.
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?
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