Hackathons: are they really worth it?

Programming

I’ve now been to several hackathons over the course of the past two years. Each time, I return home extremely tired after finishing work on a project that I never touch again. Sure, I stay up all night (or at least try to sleep), I enjoy the snacks and meals served and events and t-shirts. But I am constantly kept up trying to code, so I never get more than 6 hours of sleep, and it’s never a comfortable sleeping experience. Furthermore, I’m the kind of person that needs time to work on something to make it really great. The idea of rushing a product from an idea to a working prototype in 24 hours seems completely contrary to everything that I’ve been taught. (Except for CollegeBoard’s notion that a well-polished rhetorical analysis can be written in 40-50 minutes by millions of students worldwide, but I don’t agree with that time limit; it’s too constricting.)

For example, I just went to a hackathon where the winners started work on their project halfway through the hackathon, pulled an all-nighter, presented last, and won. I don’t know if they’ll pick up on their project ever again. I mean sure, it was a good idea, and props to them for winning, but let’s be honest, the repetitive nature of hackathons means that a new idea needs to be made every single hackathon, so the ideas will get shoddy and the motivation behind getting these ideas finished decreases significantly. Meanwhile, I’m milking a lame business that took a year or two to finally start making money. This business may not be as innovative as hackathon ideas, but I find it interesting, so I continue to provide a driving force behind it. Meanwhile, many hackathon projects are ditched immediately after the hackathon ends, even if they win. The result is that people attend many hackathons, ditching their projects after they’re haphazardly made in the course of one day’s time, and they never come to fruition after the hackathon. Furthermore, there are so many ideas that are unknowingly reimplemented many times by hackathon teams worldwide.

And this might sound lame, but I lose a lot of sleep by going to a hackathon. I really don’t like working myself to death. But, if you think about it, there is no real work done if I work myself to death. I have several ideas for apps that I would like to implement at a hackathon, but I think they have real potential. That’s why I don’t want to go to a hackathon, create it, and ditch it. If I believe in a project, I want to invest a lot of time into building it and maintaining it. Hackathons give little real reasons as to why maintaining this project should occur. Many teams go to hackathons just for the fun of it. I think it’s a complete waste of time if you aren’t going to work on it any further. Why build something and never touch it again for the fun of a hackathon? Why not actually do something meaningful with it? Honestly, how many people do you know who have went to a hackathon, came out with a brilliant idea that was implemented first at a hackathon, and then continued to work on it afterwards? Not very many, and the winners of hackathons might not even go through with continuing to develop their product. Yet hackathons are supposed to be where radical new ideas are formed and incubated. I don’t think it’s doing its job very well.

In the future, if I want to do something meaningful, if I want to create something that has real potential to change the world, I will develop it from the comfort of my home. I don’t need to go to some fancy hackathon and develop it there with the aid of Red Bull. Instead, I’ll take it nice and easy, take as much time as I need to learn and develop it (SLEEP when I need to!!), polish it, and dedicate time to maintaining it. That is the only way to ensure this idea comes to fruition and can become a success. To be honest, hackathons are a good way to get a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time, but that’s about it; they are not good for new ideas because they take time to develop into something meaningful. I wish there were a hackathon that was solely for the purpose to encourage a large amount of work to be done on an existing viable project.

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