Kisko Story
Problems and solutions

Should my hackathon be public or internal?

I see public hackathons a bit controversial, since more than often the participants are not being paid or otherwise compensated fairly.

Problems with public Hackathons


If not only for fairness of paying for the work, remember that not paying can leave you exposed to costly legal battles. Taking intellectual property from participants, especially with loosely written contracts and not paying for the work, might make some of the participants take legal action against you if the solution they came up with is used succesfully. It might also not be the participants who will question your rights to the created solutions, but the employer of your participant might have valid grounds for asking to be paid for the work later.

Say no to spec work

Very often hackathons, design contests and awards aimed at top teams are just other words for spec work. I believe that everyone deserves to be paid for value created. And not with beer and burritos. When I was in school, companies used school collaboration for free work, in 2016 its done often through hackathons. I think the community needs to address companies using free labour.

Hackathons should not be about exploiting. Students, small companies, start-ups, deserve all to be paid if they are solving problems for companies.


Also one issue with public hackathons is who should have access to the data? Sometimes your data might be too sensitive for organizing a public hackathon.

What instead of a public hackathon?

When done right and with fairness, public hackathons will give you even a more broader scale of ideas. It can also function as a marketing and recruitment tool. But you might want to consider other options before going further.

  • If you want to market a new product for developers, have a launch campaign or contact local meetup organizers to get the word out to developers.
  • For recruiting you could have a recruitment party.

An internal hackathon might be a better fit for most companies. In an internal hackathon you engage your own employees, give them ownership, make them part of innovation, and seek hidden knowledge from your domain. You could also hire a facilitator if you want to get most out of your internal hackathon.

Don’t make your employees feel bad by outsourcing innovation to students.

Your employees also have a plethora of silent knowledge about your company’s domain, and you might get really useful solutions out of internal hackathons.

If you haven’t organized a hackathon yet, I would start with an internal one before organizing a public one. Also read my separate post with an introduction to hackathons and organizers’ checklist.

Contribute to Open Source

If you really don’t want to pay your participants and want to hold a hackathon, one option is to do it for common good and waver all rights to code by submitting them under Open Source or Creative Commons licenses.

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