Or the tale of “Why I won’t be attending any Microsoft hackathons anymore”. This post could have been anything. Could've been a commentary on why people are the weakest link in any organization or a straight-up guide to organizing (or winning) proper hackathons. Instead, it will be a rant and a tale in one. A talant or rale if you will.
TL;DR - Won a hackathon a year ago, still no prize
What is a hackathon?
A hackathon is an event where people create stuff. Usually, hackathons have a theme, rules, regarding what technologies can (or should) be used, interesting problems that should be solved. Those events target programmers, designers, and other problem-solvers.
I love hackathons. I’ve been attending them for the last 4 years (10+ of them in just the last 2 years) and I’ve never had any problems even when the organization itself was extremely shitty. And then, exactly 1 year ago, the “Microsoft CEE IoT Hackathon” happened.
The Microsoft CEE IoT Hackathon is an event organized (apparently) by Microsoft Student Partners in 15 different countries simultaneously! We signed up for the event and were somewhat excited about it. (It’s a Microsoft event, it should be cool, right?) Signing up for an event like this means that you give away your whole weekend. 48 hours of not sleeping, overdosing on caffeine, brainstorming, using technologies we don’t normally use in our respective companies and finding interesting solutions to challenging problems. That's like a hardcore, exhausting vacation to us.
Hackathons like this one have sponsors, interesting speakers, and cool prizes. I won’t speak about the organization itself because I have far worse examples on my mind but the first place price was a Nokia Lumia 1520 phone (remember those?). One phone for a team of four people. It’s a bit underwhelming but anyhow, we decided we don't really want to win this thing, we were just going to have fun and build something.
On the last day of the hackathon (Sunday) with 4 hours of sleep combined, we were ready with our project (Smart road signs) and did a killer presentation. Given that and the lack of competition (only 4-5 other teams participated, if I remember correctly) - we won the hackathon.
(Just checked, all prizes, according to someone in the FB event are: one Dell venue 8 tablet and two Microsoft Lumia 1520. To be honest, I don't remember anyone getting anything different than a Diploma after the hackathon)
After the event
We were instructed that someone will contact us “soon” and we’ll get our prize (the Lumia phone).
Nobody contacted us. One month later I started asking some of the organizers and was basically told: “we’ll contact you soon, we still don’t have the phone”. I’m not going to point fingers to individual people because personally, I don’t really care exactly who is responsible, but the whole situation just makes me sad and quite a bit mad. The fact is - someone down the line forgot (or stole) the phone we won.
And mind you, this is not some underground hackathon, organized by a group of friends. This thing has “Microsoft” strewn all over it. 15 countries with the same event and what-not. It should be shiny and well-organized. Well… it wasn’t. All it did is leave us disappointed.
Last October I tweeted something along the lines of “Microsoft are useless, they’re lying to you” and I got contacted from Microsoft Bulgaria (via Direct Message on twitter) about the whole ordeal. I explained. One month later (November) they contacted me again that they’re trying to contact people from the “organization” (presumably Microsoft Student Partners Bulgaria) and if they don’t find the prize, they’ll send us a new one. Four months later (this March) I contacted them again on twitter and to this date - still nothing.
Someone might say “Well, Microsoft is a big company! It’s really hard to oversee everything!” and he would be somewhat right. Microsoft is a big company. Having some sub-organization of students involved in and around community events might be empowering for them. But letting that group of people use Microsoft money (wild guess) to organize events without any oversight? That’s just someone not doing his job. And it should be unacceptable.
Now I’m actively avoiding all Microsoft (Student Partners Bulgaria) events, which is not that hard, given that the CEE IoT hackathon was their first and last organized thing (I’m not able to find any subsequent events). I’ll be far pickier with the hackathons I attend (that’s a whole another blog post, but currently there are only 2 hackathons that are worth your time in Bulgaria). And lastly - I’ll try and find something with which to fix the bad taste in my mouth.