Hackathons don't win you customers

Oddly I rarely talk about Developer Relations, but I feel like changing that today.

I feel really uncomfortable when I hear people suggest Hackathons are a part of building a sustainable, scalable developer ecosystem.

They are not.

I have run hackathons. Some better than others. I have learnt a lot about them.

Businesses and Platform creators:

  • If you are thinking of running a hackathon to win potential new customers you are doing it wrong.
  • If you are wanting someone to start a business by using your platform at your hackathon you are doing it wrong.
  • If you are running hackathons to raise brand awareness you are doing it wrong.
  • If you are offering winners $SOMERANDOMLARGENUMBER you are doing it wrong.
  • If your product team (PMs through to Eng) are not at the hackathon you are doing it wrong.

Hackathons can be a thing of beauty, they can produce completely unexpected demos, but that is not your goal. You should be using it as a learning exercise for you, your team and fixing your product. It is the developer version of a beta test, not a marketing tool.

Learn from the developers using your platform. Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Do your demos work? are developers using the demos to build on top of them?
  • Does your documentation work? can developers start by diving into the docs and following the guides step by step?
  • Does your platform work? Is your API intuitive? Are developers getting stuck on certain parts?
  • Is there value to your platform? Is it possible for people to build sustainable integrations on your platform?

You can answer all these questions at a Hackathon. That is what you should be concentrating on.

One little point, rather than just rewarding teams who produce a lot, reward filing bugs and issues on all parts of your product, the apis, the documentation, the demos and the value as well.

About Me: Paul Kinlan

I lead the Chrome Developer Relations team at Google.

We want people to have the best experience possible on the web without having to install a native app or produce content in a walled garden.

Our team tries to make it easier for developers to build on the web by supporting every Chrome release, creating great content to support developers on web.dev, contributing to MDN, helping to improve browser compatibility, and some of the best developer tools like Lighthouse, Workbox, Squoosh to name just a few.