Dave Winer is totally off base when he says “Hackathons are how marketing guys wish software were made.”
Perhaps it’s different in his part of the world, but over here, hackdays are fun!
All the hackathon / hackdays I’ve been to are, essentially, Scrapheap Challenge* for software people.
*Note to Americans, Junkyard Wars is the US remake of Scrapheap Challenge.
The last hackday I went to was about people learning, playing, relaxing, building, tinkering, bodging, faking, and innovating.
All without a design document, manager, brand police, or scrum master. And here’s the thing – no one was expecting quality software. No one was expecting amazing things. No marketing guys (that’s me!) thought “I wonder how we can leverage the synergies of the cross-cultural blahblahblahblahblahblah…”
And yet… Quality software got made. Innovation happened. Very little of it had usability, security, and scalability baked into it. But just like an artist’s sketch can become a masterwork, or a film-maker’s short can be developed into a blockbuster, the kernels of great software was laid down.
I don’t know how many managers or marketing guys actually attend hackathons usually, but if they’d attened the one I went to at the weekend, they would have taken away a very important lesson.
Every team had to present what they’d built. Some had fully working software, others had prototypes, a few had a series of screenshots.
One team came up and showed their project plan! Seriously! All they had was a bit of paper showing the roles they were assigned, the plan for what each person was to do, a few vauge user flow diagrams, and no software.
It was plain to see that a hackday isn’t how good software gets made. It’s not even the ideal way to make software.
It’s just a way to make software. The inventions on Scrapheap Challenge would never be released to the public after a weekend with a blow-torch – and yet some of the software built at the hackday was useful and ready to be released the next day.
With all the tools available to the competent programmer, it’s now incredibly easy to write useful, scalable, high quality, innovative, beautiful, creative, playful, and helpful software in a weekend.
Or, you can just build a text to speech service which randomly calls your phone and says rude words to you.
Hackdays are about fun.