‘Hack weekends treat coders like monkeys in a cage’

Serial entrepreneur Ryan Carson, who has built a series of conferences and education services for web designers and developers in the U.K., says he has had enough of hackathons.

According to him, they’re run by opportunists looking to cash in on the eagerness of young talent for their own purposes:

The problem is that articles like This City Never Sleeps, and Neither do the Hackers and job posts that mention hacker mansions are starting to appear everywhere.

It’s a joke and I’m tired of it. Developers aren’t monkeys in a cage who can’t wait to do the next “hackathon”. They’ve got families, bills to pay and every other pressure that normal people do. They don’t want to drink Red Bull all night and sleep under their desks.

Next time someone asks if you want to crash at their hacker mansion for the summer (which has a ppol, BBQ and pool table!) or team up for a 24-hour hackathon, think twice. They’re probably just trying to cash in on your youth and optimism.

Does he have a point?

I’ve certainly seen the number of them multiply massively over the past few years, which means the quality and intent now varies wildly. Some are good, some are bad. But the general underlying cultural trend definitely seems to be there — the idea that you can (and should) convince a few hackers to develop things in their spare time using a mixture of Red Bull, pizza and some vague dream about building The Next Big Thing.

Sometimes these are great community events that bring people together to do fun stuff; sometimes they feel exploitative — and involvement can certainly be tricky for those who don’t want to buy into macho coder culture.

Over on Hacker News the post has generated some pushback (as you might expect, given that it’s a hangout for people who generally subscribe to this sort of ethos). Butit’s important, of course, to remember that there is no concerted effort here to undermine, and plenty of people happily engage in hack events of all stripes. There is no great Hackathon Authority arranging all of these events, depriving ordinary working stiffs of their weekends. It is simply a confluence of different people all seeing benefits in the same thing.

Is it just a case of calling out the bad seeds?

Photograph of Ryan Carson used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Flickr user jeffkward