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The DreamForce Million Dollar Hackathon

A few weeks we witnessed a historical event: for the first time ever a programming competition had a
million dollar bounty.  $1 Million drew a lot of attention and had many skilled programmers code up their best ideas; the flip side of $1 Million is the intense drama that’s associated with picking the winner.  In the DreamForce Hackathon the winners were accused of having the code ready before the competition announced and therefore having an unfair advantage over the rest of the field.

As a person who has won and lost hackathons I can tell you - there is nothing worse than going for several days without sleep, hacking something amazing, and then losing to someone who had an unfair advantage.  We all know that given more time all of the competitors could have improved their applications.

The first problem that is inherent in all of the hackathons is the amount of original code that needs to be written in the competition. For instance: all of us are using libraries and frameworks and no one seems to have an issue with that.  In fact people who are masters of using libraries are praised at their skillful way to configure or control those building blocks during the competition.

The second problem in the hackathons is that the nature of the event calls for quick judgment.  Everyone wants to know the winner literally hours after the submissions and presentations are done.  Anyone who has done a code review or a due diligence on any software knows that it is downright impossible to do a good amount of due diligence on dozens or hundreds of submissions in 2-3 hours.  Should we have more time for reviews?  I think all of the contestants themselves want to know if they won something pretty much that same day.

Salesforce’s decision to award the first prize to both 1st and 2nd team is incredibly generous and also probably the best given the situation.

If any of the critics come up with a better idea of how to do judgment in a compressed amount of time I think we should all try them out.  My closing advice for participants is: build apps that you would like to work on regardless of the prize.  Many of the apps built during the $1 Million Hackathon were elegant, innovative and could very well attract funding and customers.

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