When hackdays just *aren’t* cool – some PR advice

I just got a bit ranty and grumpy on Twitter.  I saw this tweet:


And upon following the link, it rather made me angry.  The link goes to this page:


Wow. Cadbury want developers to develop their Olympic app for no money, and think they will do so for the chance to win tickets to the games, or some chocolate (or other prizes).  So, let’s get that straight: no payment.  You make their app (no mention of you keeping your IP, so I presume they want that too), and don’t get paid actual real money that will keep your roof over your head, help pay for the upkeep of tools for your trade, feed you and if you have one, your family.  Unless you win and really like just eating chocolate.

Will anyone do this?  Of course they will.  The hackday will no doubt be full – it’s worth a pop for the developers’ marketing potential, plus no doubt it’ll be fun. So what’s my problem?  My problem is developers (well, anyone, actually) should not be exploited or taken the piss out of.  By a multi billion pound company creating a hack day like this, they’re essentially saying “we don’t think you’re worth paying because we don’t have to”.  And that’s just a bit shit.

Some folks on Twitter were asking if this is just ignorance on their part, that they aren’t aware of how this comes across.  Well, that is *really ignorant* then, and just as bad. I don’t count that as a valid excuse to be exploiting people.  Would they expect their copywriters to work for free?  How about their accounts people?  No. Because people should be paid for working for your company.  It’s that simple.

But what if a company wants to run a hack day, and get all the benefits from the crowdsourcing and brainstorming getting some really talented folks in a room?  Go for it!  But PAY PEOPLE MONEY.  Pay for their time, and their ideas, and their input to your company’s research and development.  If their ideas are so important to your company that you are willing to use them as your official app(s), then they should be paid a market rate (or if it’s as high profile as the Olympics, market rate++ in my opinion!).

Hackdays that run without people getting paid cash money for their work are generally because they exist to help folks to make things that they then own and benefit a cause they are passionate about. Not developing for a specific company, and giving up their IP – which is the difference brands need to get a handle of.

As well as paid hack days, companies/brands could consider another professional alternative: do prototyping days with developers who can create apps and products for you in quick time frames at relatively low cost compared to fully developed projects, so you can fail fast on stuff you don’t like and move forward with the innovations you like.  Loads of these folks now exist – there’s a subset of devs who do *just* this.  Want to know them?  Get in touch, I’d be happy to do you an intro.

To sum up: there’s a whole technology industry watching you undervalue them when you pull stunts like this.  For the sake of a few thousand pounds, you get to choose between a PR fuck up and a proper engagement and R&D strategy. Your call.

UPDATE! 14th May 2012 – here is what has happened since this blog post:

Cadbury hack updated text

About Thayer Prime

Tall. Eats a lot. Talks too much. I tweet over @thayer
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22 Responses to When hackdays just *aren’t* cool – some PR advice

  1. iamkeir says:

    Amen to that!

  2. edent says:

    Well….. yes and no. To me, hackdays are about fun (my blog). Nothing created in a weekend should be released to the public.

    To me, this sort of hackday is a quid pro quo. I get to play with a cool new API, have one-on-one technical help, work with new people, and get a free lunch. Oh and maybe win a prize.

    In return, the organisers get feedback, some prototyping, and hopefully positive mindshare so people use their services in the future.

    The real screw up in this, is that they’re not saying what they’re offering technically. What APIs can Cadbury’s offer? Who are the parters? What technology learning can I do there?

    The IP issues, etc, are important – but I’m happy to play for a weekend with cool tech.

    I’m boycotting the Olympics, but I gather there’s less than 3 months to go. That’s not really enough time to design, build, test, and release a high profile application.

    So, really, I wonder what this event is for?

    I’m going because I like chocolate 🙂

  3. ian says:

    You say that if they want to do an event like this, they should pay the hackers – but the reality is, they wouldn’t bother – instead they’d give the money to an agency who would provide guaranteed results. If I were a developer struggling for work, I’d quite possibly go for this. What is there to lose? It would have the networking opportunities of a costly conference, you’d get to work with and meet other enthusiastic developers which is always a learning experience, you’d probably get a bit of insight into how the digital media team of a multinational company works, and who knows – maybe you’ll meet an Oompa Loompa?

    Isn’t this just a form of bartering? An experience for your time? And even if you don’t keep the IP, if it’s a hugely successful app you develop, I’d imagine you’d have a job offer heading your way. If it’s a flop, well – what do you want the IP for anyway?

  4. Thayer Prime says:

    Hi Ian, just to clarify, it’s not the event I have a problem with, it’s the outcome. As for agencies providing guaranteed results, I think that is in the eye of the beholder 😉

  5. jabbslad says:

    I’m a developer and I have no problem with what Cadbury are doing. My main aim when I go to a hackathon is to have fun, meet new people & try something new. I value those things a lot more than my daily rate so just because cash isn’t changing hands doesn’t mean its exploitation.

    • zammalad says:

      I have to agree here. No one is forced to take part in these events. Those that do may not take away anything in the form of cash but they will take away the experience and potentially make relations with other developers. To some this can be just as valuable/rewarding as being paid.
      A lot of people who do go will probably have normal jobs and this would be a nice ‘hobby’ project to have a break from the norm.

  6. madmotive says:

    Great points. The Hackday Manifesto covers some of these issues but there could be an opportunity to refine it based on your observations: http://hackdaymanifesto.com/

  7. Interns work for companies for no pay. So do volunteers. This is the next iteration of that. Doesn’t say I agree with it (for the record, my chances of success would be about as great as winning a million on the Lottery) but no doubt they’ll find someone willing to work with them for the joy and bliss of being able to put on their CV that they won the tickets/competition/wouldn’t have been a programmer/app developer without it.

  8. Pingback: Types of hack day | Emma Mulqueeny

  9. Your last paragraph – “there’s a whole technology industry watching you undervalue them” really hits hard. Especially when you consider that this is organised and funded by the Technology Strategy Board – that’s the bit of the government that’s supposed to help UK entrepreneurs succeed and create economic growth. Oops.

    Shouldn’t we be angry with them, rather than the chocolate factory that’s getting a bargain?

    The Cadbury Hackathon is part of Digital Shoreditch, a two-week festival celebrating the awesomeness and/or hipster douchebaggery that is Silicon Roundabout, and dreams of being as big as SxSW. If you check their site, http://digitalshoreditch.com, you will see it’s backed by local and central government, who really should be promoting better practice than pitching for free and letting your IPR slip through your fingers, if you ask me.

    A quick Google on Matt Sansam shows that he works for the TSB and previously ran a games company. I hope you can have a sensible conversation with him and get some good answers. Another good man to discuss it with would be Kam Star. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is the founder of Digital Shoreditch and also has a company called Games for Brands.

    As for Cadbury’s, I’m not sure they are the bad guys in this story. They may have driven a hard bargain, in which case I’ll hiss the villain, but I think they may have about as much responsbility for the object of your anger as Domino’s Pizza had for “Who Wants To Not Get Stabbed?”

    Keep digging. Stay angry. Find the truth. Improve the world.

  10. smallbeds says:

    God, what a bunch of rapacious asses Cadbury’s are acting like. But when a subsidiary of a multinational – which is all Cadbury’s is these days – behaves like an ass, people fall over themselves to try to excuse their behaviour. You might say: they’re allowed to behave like an ass. Well, of course they are. But we’re also allowed to call them out on it, and show what a bait-and-switch this Hackday has become.

    If they didn’t know in advance how this would be received, then they should apologize and change the terms of their Hackday. If they don’t apologize, and don’t change the terms, you can bet that this was entirely intentional, and they’d rather be profiteering asses than members of any Hackday community.

    Ignorance, like incompetence, is all to often strategically deployed by a company for malicious ends, and it always astonishes me how many people leap to their defence with old canards about confusing the two. “No one is forced to take part in these events?” Oh, please. The attempts of some of your commenters; to escalate a discussion about Cadbury’s mis-selling a massive IP land-grab, which they can’t win; to a discussion about some fictitious developer coercion, which they can win: this is frankly pathetic. It seems that late-period capitalism can barely move for its crowd of needy, whining apologists.

    • edent says:

      As a fully paid-up corporate schill, I have to disagree 🙂

      I don’t see anywhere on the site where it says Cadbury’s get the IP.
      In fact, I don’t see any terms and conditions. Certainly it’s no less vauge than any other hack day.

      It looks like a fairly uninspirng event – unless you *really* love chocolate, and it doesn’t meet many of the needs of a hackday. But I don’t see anything evil or wrong with it.

  11. Pingback: Types of hack day – 2012 – Rewired State

  12. MsS says:

    Just wanted to update you all from the Cadbury side. Since Becoming aware of this discussion, we’ve updated the DS site today to make it clear that developers keep their IP. We are looking into addressing the other issues and concerns raised here – primarily telling you what APIs there will be to work with, who will be there (we couldn’t say anything definite as not everyone has agreed yet) and exactly what the deal is for participants and particularly, the winners. Thanks to Thayer for flagging some important issues and thanks all for the comments – I’m feeding back to my team so that we can make improvements and ensure that this as fun and fair and worthwhile as poss.

  13. iamkeir says:

    What a really positive outcome – and great of you to post this, MsS. Open discussion prevails!

  14. Pingback: Techgrumps 59: The perfect as the enemy of the hackday « TechGrumps

  15. maybe things are different in the UK, as you read the page as Cadburys taking advantage of developers. I read that and I thought it looked like a standard hack type event – folks come togeather, build something that kind-of, sort-of demos, meet new people and have fun. The Corporate sponsor pays for refreshments.
    Everyone wins.

    All the stuff I have seen at these weekend events are hacks. Not at all stable or scalable. In fact you would have to be crazy to do anything other than throw that code away!
    Very few are even realistic MVP (Minimum Viable Products).
    I read their suggestion as “if you win, we will help to get the app into a state where you could release it, and we will help market it”. I would have guessed that the “help” would be some sort of funding.

  16. Matt Glover says:

    … writing this as a self confessed Hackathon-Junkie. I’ve entered a few (including next weekend’s Cadbury’s Mobile Hackathon) and also been lucky enough to have won or placed in a few … (strangely enough I was awarded 5 boxes of chocolates for the event I won … amongst other prizes/services).

    My personal motivation for taking part in these are primarily to connect with like minded developers and designers, play with some new tech/APIs and also the challenge of hacking something together in a couple of days (… the pizza also helps).
    But mainly it’s connecting with others … by the end of it you come away a room full of new mates (sounds cheesy, but true).

    With regards having an app developed for free and relinquishing any IP rights over it … that’s never been a condition of any I’ve participated in so far (and I think that’s been addressed already by MsS) … Only one of my Hackathon entries have ever been released to the wild … but only after 3 weeks of a near re-write and design. In my experience, it’s fairly rare that any ‘hack’ is released … and even less likely, after 24/48hrs to be production ready that a large multi-national organisation would be confident to endorse. The offer of 10k to the winning entry to see it through to a stage where it could be ready is by far the most generous prize I’ve come across.

    I certainly don’t feel exploited .. I get as much, if not more, as the organisers/sponsors do.
    See you next week .. I’m looking forward to it 🙂

  17. I’ve been on 11 hackathons. My experience says, that Cadbury won’t get any releasable stuff after the hackathon. So why would they pay? If they want something releasable, they will have to work with the hacker after the hackathon and then pay him.
    Hackathons are great event for new ideas and lots of fun. Cadbury is doing great stuff. I consider this article as trolling.

    • Thayer Prime says:

      Hi Tomasz, thanks for your reply. Sorry you see this as trolling, but you’re entitled to your opinion – I’d be interested what part of it you think is trolling though, as I explain why this situation wasn’t in Cadbury’s best interests, and then suggest a solution. According to wikipedia, “a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community” – so somewhat different. Cadbury stated very clearly they wanted this hackday to produce their Olympic app. So regardless of your experience, it’s their intent I was writing about.

      This blog post is written as PR advice (the clue is in the title), not as a sleight on hackdays. As you can see, they chose to take my advice, and after direct chats with them changed the terms of their hackday. So, all’s well that ends well!

  18. adam says:

    Or, of course, people could have gone to the infinitely more worthwhile NHS hackday, that was the same weekend…

    (I was going to do both, until I realised they clashed. Save the NHS billions of pounds, keeping it out of the grasping hands of Acc(id)enture – and saving actual lives? Or eating some chocolate while doing some ill-defined R&D for Cadbury’s?)

    I know Kam, and I’m sure his heart was in the right place with this (as were the TSB folks involved) – but it came across that Cadbury’s didn’t have a clue what they were doing with the event: as if they’d never read what a Hackathon is, or had not bothered to try and understand it. It had been wrapped up as if “hackathon” wasn’t interesting, and needed “improving”. Personally, I’d ignored that when signing up originally, and just hoped to meet some interesting people there.

    But in the face of the NHS option instead, I pulled out of Cadbury’s (regretfully)

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