Which Hackathons Are Right for Job Seekers?

Hackathon

A number of IT companies stage hackathons as a way to identify and recruit the technology talent they need. But the people they’re targeting don’t always appreciate the effort.

HackathonIndeed, these companies are experiencing something of a backlash. In a recent post on Hackers and Hacking, HackMatch founder Dave Fontenot notes that the reasons businesses stage hackathons and the reasons developers participate are “fundamentally different.” A very small portion of attendees want to be recruited, he contends, and those who do are unlikely to be the ones a company is seeking.

Instead of diving right into hacking, many of these hackathons begin with sometimes hours of talks about how great company X is. At most, hackers want tech talks about how they can leverage your platform, not a talk on how your company (like every other) is changing the world. While you are hacking, [you] may even be unpleasantly interrupted to hear the sales pitch on joining the company. There’s almost a sense of entitlement that the company deserves your attention at will because they bought you free pizza and caffeine.

Recruiting Tools Done Right

San Francisco-based Twilio, which has put on hackathons since its founding in 2008, uses the events as part of its outreach to the developer community. Last year, it sponsored approximately 100 of them.

“The concept of using a hackathon as a tryout for employment is the wrong approach,” says Rob Spectre, the company’s director of developer evangelism. “You have to go in with a genuine attitude that you are serving the developer first. It’s only when the developer learns that they could do something with Twilio that they weren’t able to do before, or they want to know more about the technology, or are excited about the potential of what they can do with it and want to be a part of it — in that moment, they will ask about job opportunities, or that is the time to bring it up.”

Spectre estimates that of the hundreds of developers who’ve attended the company’s hackathons, only a small segment were looking for a job. “When developers go to hackathons, they’re mentally not looking for work but are there to celebrate this lifestyle with other people with similar interests,” he says. As a result, he thinks the percentage of developers who are asked to interview or are hired is in the single digits.

Job Seekers’ Best Bet

For developers attending as a means to get in front of hiring managers and potential team members, single-company hackathons are the best bet. Odds are the hosts are using the event to scope out talent, while those hosted by technology organizations may or may not have corporate representatives in attendance. In fact, some may not allow them at all.

Last month Google hosted a hackathon for Google TV and YouTube in Los Angeles, specifically looking to find super-smart developers, according to MediaPost. Google wasn’t shy about its intentions: Several times during the event it announced it was looking for great coders with good ideas.

If you’re looking for work, Spectre advises finding a hackathon that addresses a topic you feel passionate about, such as problems with the food chain or healthcare. “If your passion is on display when you code, that is what people are looking for when they hire,” he says. “What’s important at hackathons is how much you are invested in your work.”

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