When A Hackathon Becomes Cheap, Crowdsourced Labor

About nine months ago, I attended my first hackathon and it was amazing. I met awesome designers and developers, and got to be part of a little movement to use tech for good in the wake of hurricane Sandy. Sponsor prizes seemed to actually mean something, and it wasn’t a competition. I wish that hackathons still had the same kind of spirit.

Today, a friend of mine sent me an email about attending an upcoming hackathon. It sounded great until I read this:

brief24 offers a fresh approach to creative problem-solving… five Top 100 Fortune participating companies will submit a brief by noon on June 27, 2013, and 24 hours later they will receive a working prototype

From those lines on, I continued to read just to laugh and be appalled that someone was calling this a ‘hackathon’. Any self respecting designer or developer should spot this as cheap, crowdsourced spec work. It’s a damn shame that anyone would consider even going to this, yet alone plan it.

To dig in the knife a little deeper, the ‘job posting’ was up on Elance - which I had to make an account just to access.


  • Designers will be compensated up to $800 depending on experience
  • Developers will be compensated $1000 depending on experience
  • Includes all meals (lunch, dinner, snacks, breakfast) during this period
  • All developers and designers will need to be qualified through a short preliminary screening process (details to follow).

So, not only are they compensating designers and developers a ridiculous amount of money that they may or may not earn, they have to be vetted! I think this is a joke, honestly. That equates to $33/hour for designers at the most, and $40/hour for developers in NYC. These rates are pitifully sad, especially for NYC, where a serious designer or developer should charge you at least double that. Remember, this is top notch work done within a 24 period for Top 100 Fortune companies at rates that don’t even compete with industry standard in NYC.

A quick google search suggests that developers on average charge $90/hour in New York. Let’s do the math here…

  • 8 Hours in a work day: $720
  • 16 overtime hours at time and a half: $2160

That’s $2880 that these developers should be making on average, whereas they are being offered more than half of that at $1000 for 24 straight hours worth of work.

Back to all the things!