Music Hack Day / photo taken from twilio blog

Hackdays, what have they become?

What are hackdays? What are hackdays not?

What are Hackdays?

Some people call them hackdays, others call them hackathons.

Well, actually let’s start with “what are hackers?”. Once we establish this we can understand what a “hackday” is.


What are hackers?

Hackers, hackers are not crackers. Hackers do not break into systems. Hackers do not steal data. Well, a cracker could also be a hacker, but a hacker themselves are not “bad people”.

Spend your next 26 mins watching this. Don’t worry I’ll still be here when you get back.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bl_1OybdteY
(Hackers: Wizards of the Electronic Age - 1985 documentary)

So, now you know how “hackers” started and what they “were” originally. Well now I tell you something you might not realise. This is still what hackers are.

“I didn’t try to make money, it just hit me in the face”.

Hackers are “just” happy making something that they enjoy making, among other hackers, learning something new. Making the machine do what they want it to do and hackers love to discover and explore.

“Not so much a hacker ethic, it’s a hacker instinct. It’s like the baby ducks seeing their first moving object”


What are hackers not?

Hackers are not expert developers. (Some may be, but that’s very different)
Hackers are not entrepreuners. (Some may be, but that’s very different)

So, now we know what hackers are and what hackers are not, we can get back to the original topic.


What are hackdays?

Hackdays are events where people (hackers) can go to learn and discover new things. They are great opportunities for people to meet other people who can help them share knowledge about new technologies or new methodologies.

They are often spread over two days so that you have plenty of time to work on your project. Often as a hacker, when you are “in the zone”, you just want to finish the current thing you are on / fix the bug you are on. Which can sometimes take you far too long, this is where the throughout the night opportunity comes in.

Hackdays are often simply turning an idea into reality. I wonder if… Wouldn’t it be funny if… Woudn’t it be fun if…

At the end of the hackday, we all gather round and see what kind of stuff we have all been up to over the weekend. These are called demos.

Why do they have sponsors? These are often kind / generous people providing the food / drink / venue so that we as hackers can continue on our projects.

Why do they have prizes? So, this is something that I personally dont really agree with. If you go to a hackday to win a prize, you are not my kind of hacker. Some hackdays have prizes for “best hack”, i would love a definition of this. Other hackdays have prizes from companies. “Oh awesome, love what you did with our stuff, here have this shiny thing”. So, I can understand this, but they are not the be all and end all. They are not the purpose of the hackday.

This, this leads me nicely onto:


What are hackdays not?

Hackdays are not startup incubators. No one can make a business over a weekend. There seems to be a new “category” of hackdays. I’m not going to name any names, but I think these are vile. This is where a business guy pairs up with a couple of developers. So that the business guy can get his MVP built by the developers. And then at the end of the weekend, all the “teams” get to present their “pitches”.

“Pitches”… “Pitches”… NO! They are demos, who are you pitching to? Why, why are you pitching?

I don’t like these kind of events at all. Maybe I’m just the wrong crowd, but they attach their hackday esq name to it.

Hackdays are not about free labour. “Let’s set up a hackday, where we can get loads of developers to make our next app for free!”.

Hackdays are not speculative work. “Let’s set up a hackday, where we can get loads of developers to make our next app and the best one wins a BAG LOAD OF CASH”.

Hackdays are not a “big deal”. WOOOO! YEAH! THESE HACKERS ARE AMAZING!!! WOOP WOOP! SOMEBODY CHEER FOR THESE PEOPLE.

Hackdays are not zoos. “Oooohhh so that’s what a hacker looks like”, “wait what, they are just sat on their laptops all day?”.

Hackdays are not about making the next facebook.

Hackdays aren’t about the prizes. Big money prizes attract a different breed of hacker. And sure, if that’s for you, I’m sure they can be a lucrative money making scheme, I know of one with $100,000 USD 1st prize.

Hackdays aren’t about winning. I go there to learn from others. I go there to create. I go there to have fun. Many other hackers I have spoken to over the past 12 months would agree with me.

UPDATE: changed the above to I, instead of presuming you are the same as me, as requested by Nick Stevens from Startup Weekender.

Hackdays are not for everyone.


What makes a good hackday?

I’ve been to a fair few number of hackdays over the past couple of years, some have been awesome fun, some have been dreadful. It often depends on who is organising them.

From a hacker point of view, guys, trust your instinct, go to the ones that are going to be fun, if they mention “pitch”, they are not for me.

From an organiser point of view. Remember, we are there to learn from others as we could have just stayed at home hacking instead.

There are so many hackdays nowadays, in London there are about 4 every weekend, it’s a bit ridiculous. And unfortunately from what I understand, it’s far too easy to go to a “bad” hackday.

I’m sure many people will disagree with me. Everything above, is simply my personal opinion.

But remember, hackdays are (meant to be) fun.

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