“Hackathons are nonsense!”

Of course I’m expressing my opinion, as was he, and we all know what they say about opinions, eh?  So let’s take a closer look at what a Hackathon really is and then reevaluate the opening remark.

“Hackathons are nonsense”  that is according to an author at a popular tech site and someone who was one of Business Week’s 25 “Most Influential People on the Web”.  He also couldn’t be more wrong.  This author then goes on to state “Hackathons are how marketing guys wish software were made”.  Again, this person is way off base with his overly narrow thoughts on this topic. I think Wikipedia actually sums up the definition quite nicely: “A hackathon (also known as a hack dayhackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others in the field of software development, like graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Occasionally, there is a hardware component as well.  Hackathons typically last between a day and a week in length. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include theprogramming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created.” There is just one thing that the definition misses; Hackathons provide an opportunity to build relationships, not just software. About a week ago Beeline held it’s second Hackathon of 2012 and like the Hackathons before, it was awesome.  Prior Hackathons have given birth to amazing feature ideas, some that have made it into the Beeline Vendor Management Software (VMS) and some that need a little polish & testing before they’re ready to be released to the public.  The aforementioned article goes on to state that “to make good software, requires lots of thought, trial and error, evaluation, iteration, trying the ideas out on other users, learning, thinking, more trial and error, and on and on”.  Again, I have to respectfully disagree.  Yes, sometimes that does occur but in my experience you can deliver solid business value in short time frames (“iterations” in our Agile/SCRUM process) and continuously build on top of it. Let’s assume for just a moment that creating good software does require the enormous effort and long time frames expressed in the article.  I still think it misses the point.  The Beeline Hackathons are not just about software; they’re also about the people.  During our most recent Hackathon one of our participating developers posted this to our company intranet stream: “I really do love hackathon at Beeline, and I am so proud of our interns for pulling off some hotness for hackathon.” This is exactly the vibe that most (if not all) of the participants feel during a Beeline Hackathon.  People are excited, they work together in different ways and are anxious to both present and view the presentations of other teams.  So how can an event that energizes employees, strengthens relationships, sparks new ideas, potentially solves existing problems and very possibly creates software that is almost ready for market be “nonsense”?  What do you think?