On Monkeys, Coders and API Hackathons

A recent post by Ryan Carson titled “I’m tired of the opportunists and their hackathons” has generated lot of comments. The post seems to project API Hackathons in a bad light and almost exploitative in nature. I leave it up to the reader to go through Ryan Carson’s post and he does bring up some important points but they seem more sensational in nature.

For those who are not aware of what API Hackathons are, I will try to break it down. Lets first look at the word “API”. An API (and here I am talking about it being publicly available) is some core functionality that a company exposes for its partners and the developer community to interact with from within their applications. A simple example is that of Twitter, which exposes an API to send a tweet from any application. A Hackathon is a gathering organized by one or more API providers, who would like their API to get used by interested developers in 24-48 hour sessions.

Some points from my side:

1) No developer has been forced to attend these Hackathons and each one is attending them on their own to satisfy whatever their need might be from the Hackathon. It could be the prize money offered, networking, learning about APIs in general, just spending time. In other words, who are we to judge someone and say that X is a zombie and is so infatuated with the programming bug that these Hackathons are a drug to X.

2) What is wrong in companies offering money to try out their APIs, to build a prototype or whatever. Another way to look at it is that the companies are not bothered about what products are built with their APIs during the hackathon, they are simply throwing money to win some eyeballs. Isnt that advertising ? And what is wrong with that ? Do you expect any developer (unless you are popular service) to simply start using your API without allocating $$$ in your budget towards building the developer community? Hackathons are just one of the mechanism IMO, to build your developer community, get some feedback from them and so on.

3) Hackathons are probably just the first step in the journey. API providers can approach the winners or interesting ideas that did not win and then encourage their development (by putting resources of course – time, people and money on the table) and take it forward.

4) There are instances when investors have been scouting around these events and independently opening up a channel with the developers if there is something of interest.

5) It does not help to state that developers are idiots and they continue to slog and work for long hours with low wages. At no point in time now or in the future, can we determine what is the right kind of compensation for the effort put in? Software development is not a mechanical task with fixed raw materials and that goes from Step 1 – Step 2 … Step 10. It is very difficult to come up with precise pricing that is agreeable to all. At the end of the day, as a software developer it is very encouraging to know that you will have a constant stream of work (and pay), provided you are willing to adjust, take some risks, keep learning new things, have a healthy network and have a good online presence.

In summary, it is the same ecosystem of give and take that we are seeing in action. And Hackathons are no different. In fact, I would encourage anyone who has never been to one to go out there, put your mind and effort to it in those 1-2 days and see for yourself, a side of yours that you never knew existed.



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