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Are Hackathons Losing their Luster?

April 18, 2018

For the last several years, companies who want to attract software developers have been betting big on hackathons.  Set up a little coding event in a school or clubhouse – or better yet your own facility if you have something that can be used –  publicize it, buy some pizza and sodas as motivational refreshments, and just sit back and wait for the developers to stream through the doors, start coding and become so enamored with your company and products that they’ll not only thoroughly adopt your APIs or platforms but they’ll also tell all their friends to do that too.  Right?

Well, maybe or maybe not.

The world has become totally interconnected which means that more and more companies outside of the usual realm of platform and tool companies are aware of the need to connect with developers.  To connect with those developers companies are opening up APIs.  Open APIs are proliferating everywhere and if you’ve got an API you’ve got a platform, and if you’ve got a platform you need developers to adopt and support that platform.

We’ve seen numerous companies trying to adapt to this new reality by putting together a small team and charging them with populating their platform.  For many that has meant putting on a hackathon, or maybe a whole series of them and that’s about it.  As Evans Data continued to measure developer sentiment, actions and technology adoption we watched the number of hackathons that developers attend rise each year and saw our clients devoting quite a lot of resources to them.

But now the tide seems to be turning. The number of developers who attended a hackathon declined significantly in 2017 according to the newly released Evans Data Developer Marketing 2018 survey report. The survey showed that 70% of developers in 2017 had gone to at least one hackathon, which is a significant 19% decrease from the 83% that went to at least one in 2016. At the same time, those who went to only a small number of hackathons increased while those attending many hackathons showed a marked decrease.

And it wasn’t just vendors who were putting these on. Of those who attended hackathons, 46% said they went to one sponsored by a commercial vendor while 42% attended one sponsored by a local developer organization, and 37% went to one sponsored by a school or university.

It’s not entirely a surprise.  One had to wonder how long the hackathon phenomenon would go on in its current state. Hackathons have become a crutch for many developer marketing professionals who don’t really understand what to do, but while they are good for getting limited grass roots support for platforms or tools, they are also labor intensive for marketers, they involve cost, and by their very nature are extremely parochial and thus limited in reach.  When one considers the amount of resources it takes to reach probably less than 100 developers it really doesn’t add up.

So what’s next?  Online contests deliver far more bang for the buck, but for in-person events, try meetups. Last year almost three quarters of developers went to at least one meet up.

The new Developer Marketing 2018 survey is exclusively focused on tactical marketing outreach efforts and understanding developers. The 221 page reference covers topics such as: Demographics, Firmographics, Psychographics, Purchasing Authority, Outreach Vehicles, Motivations, Using Social Media for Recruitment, Training, Conferences and Hackathons, Encouraging Participation in an Online Community, Using Search Engines for Marketing and more. Margin of error is 4.2%.

More on developers……..

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