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Why Do a Hackathon?

Research from Evan’s Data tells us that only 7% of developers worldwide have ever participated or have an interest in participating in a Hackathon like event. I would argue that the percentage that actually write apps is even lower. With such a low penetration rate, why all of the Hackathons? Given that many of the Hackathon participants might already know your platform, you’re certainly not going to set the world on fire with all of the new developers that signup for using your technology as a result of the Hackathon.

Hackathons are expensive. You typically need to rent a venue and provide food (for a physical hackathon). You might be putting up prize money and/or giving out developer swag (for both a physical and virtual hackathon). Is it worthwhile?

So the question here is what value do you get out of a Hackathon and is that return worth the investment?

Let’s start by talking about what you get out of a Hackathon. You might pick up a handful of developers who signup, but if you look at the cost and divide that by the number of new developers, the price per new developer of your Hackathon is probably going to be really expensive! Thus, you need to look deeper for value out of your Hackathon, and I believe that if you do it right, there is more value to be had.

1. Hackathons can generate buzz in the developer world.

Your Hackathon is a PR opportunity, and you need to take advantage of this by getting your PR team involved. You should be promoting your Hackathon before the event and doing that worldwide. Although many developers might not come, they might see that you are doing a Hackathon and by reading what you have to say might learn something about your platform, your APIs, and/or your SDK’s. The same is true about the post-Hackathon promotion. This will require extra work, but plan on it, or this value will slip through your fingers.

2. Hackathons give you an opportunity to speak to developers.

You’ve created your platform, you’ve built SDK’s, you’ve built API’s, you’ve packaged it, and you put it onto your developer portal. But, and this is a big but, is it any good? Use your Hackathon for market feedback. Sit down with the participants and run a small, casual, non-blind focus group at the end of your Hackathon. Ask question and then listen. Ask the developers about their experience.

  • Did your technology solve a problem that deserved to be solved?
  • Were your APIs end points and/or methods in the SDK the right ones?
  • Are there any API end points or SDK methods that missing and should be there?
  • Are the SDK’s packaged to make it easy to consume?
  • How was the portal experience as you tried to learn what the technology did?
  • Was the documentation presented in an easy to consume manner?
  • Were you able to get API keys quickly and efficiently?
  • Could you get help using the forum?
  • Were you able to raise tickets to get individual help from the technology experts?
  • Was it easy to test what you built using the technology?
  • Based upon your experience, is there anything else that the portal could have done better to help you?
3. The Hackathon might give you insight into new and innovative ways of using your technology.

You never know, one of the Hackathon teams might figure out a new use case for your technology that will change the world and you will have played a role in it.

In summary, Hackathons are not really a way to recruit lots of developers to your platform. But they are a great way of generating some buzz around your technology and an even better way to learn more about how your technology is packaged and what it can be used for.