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  • Are hackathons a form of exploitation?

    Are hackathons a form of exploitation?

    One of the most controversial subjects in the hackathon universe is the fact that some people see the event as a form of exploitation. As if all those willing to make a hackathon had ulterior or very selfish motives.

    Anyone who is, somehow, part of the ecosystem or has ever participated in a hackathon knows that things are not quite like that.
    We may be biased, after all, “we love hackathons”, but we also have good arguments to show you that experiences of this type are enhanced for all parts involved and, when performed correctly, it got nothing to do with exploitation.

    Labor out-sourcing?

    The most common criticism is that companies use the participants for unpaid labor. A theory that falls apart when we look at the passion with which developers, the majority in hackathons, are willing to be part of this type of activity.

    Participating in a hackathon is no different than voluntarily contributing to an Open Source project, for example. What drives participation in both is the willingness to learn, experiment, solve complex problems, contribute and build amazing things!

    Hackathons provide the best possible environment for developers (and people in a variety of other skills) to be able to showcase their skills and get them recognized by experts in their respective industries.

    Most of the time, they work as competitions and even offer prizes for the best ideas. But everyone who takes part in a hackathon comes out with some kind of “victory,” even if they don’t get on the podium.


    No matter your area of work, having the opportunity to work with one of the top companies in your industry, even for a weekend, is a lot positive for you. A participant has a lot to gain for the time and effort he invests during a hackathon.

    Cash or prize rewards reach only a small percentage of participants, but the real benefit is intangible.

    In a Stack Overflow survey of over 25,000 developers, 76.3% said that the reason they participate in hackathons is “because they find it enjoyable.”

    Of course, this only happens when some basic rules are followed.

    Intellectual property

    The most important, if not the only, of these rules is the one we prioritize most in our hackathons: intellectual property is under the control of those who came up with the idea.

    Any possible offer from the company sponsoring the event needs to be dealt with directly with the team post-hackathon. And it’s up to them to negotiate or not.

    We have a whole article talking about it here. But in any case, we advise all applicants to carefully read the Terms and Conditions before any kind of registration.

    “Employees are obligated to participate in internal hackathons”

    No, they’re not. Or at least they shouldn’t!

    Ask any HR manager, getting employees involved with the company is a big challenge for any industry. Even because it is very difficult to create an activity that pleases everyone.

    Achieving maximum employee involvement requires an activity that meets four essential requirements: allowing employees to explore their passions, make them feel their contribution in the process is truly meaningful, have fun, and be recognized for their efforts.

    And guess what is one of the few activities that combine these four components! That’s right: hackathon!

    Yes, there may be cases where the employee feels obligated to participate. But that’s not an exclusive hackathon issue, right? How many times have you felt compelled to attend an event hosted by the company you work for?

    It is important that companies wishing to conduct an internal hackathon ensure that participation is voluntary. Nothing innovative will be born out of the feeling of obligation.

    Last but not least

    Projects created during a hackathon rarely exceed the walls of the event. We’re not saying that the ideas don’t have revolutionary potential, but those are rare.

    Because, contradicting what many people think, a hackathon’s biggest goal is not to create the next successful product or multi-million dollar company in 36 hours but to provide a platform for experimenting with ideas and exploring opportunities (and nothing more than that!).

    A hackathon serves to spread the culture of innovation and the principle that good ideas can come from anywhere. When done well, it works as a very powerful tool.

    And what does it take to fit into the “done well” box? If your intention is to offer a hackathon, we have listed some best practices that guarantee a fair event for all parties:

    • Hackathon for external audiences: Most of the time, employees are invited to be mentors, try to mix them with external mentors as well, people without direct involvement with the company have a more expansive view of the problems.
    • The challenge: Be careful not to produce a challenge or “request” a solution for internal demand. A key factor in a hackathon is co-creation, so try to approach the challenge as a context, not a specific problem to solve.
    • Environment: Here the keyword is “inviting”. Explore this word in every way, from meeting each participant’s needs and adapting the venue to the maximum, to make your hackathon as diverse and representative as possible.

    Still have concerns about the format? Join a Shawee hackathon! We can change your view of the ecosystem.

    Keep an eye on our social networks and subscribe to our newsletter for more information.

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