In the past, evangelists have been central to hackathons, a large group of helpful people meandering the event doing all they can to make the event better for the people there. Recently, however, I attended a hackathon where I was the only mentor wandering the event, the only one to stay past 3am, and one of only two evangelists at the event. The fact is, this isn’t just a single event, it’s a trend. This terrifies me.

I love hackathons. They’re responsible for me being who I am today. To me, mentors are central to hackathons. They’re one of the reasons I attended, and continue to attend hackathons. To me, learning is one of the best reasons to be at a hackathon. Mentors provide an external source of learning, a source of new ideas, and cross-pollinate teams and geographies.

Typically, hackathons have had no end to mentors, most have been in the form of Developer Evangelists. Now, as one, I’m biased, but I think we bring a lot to any event we attend. We fly in and are there to help attendees. We go with the intent of making the event better for participants. We’re at a new one every week, understand their purpose and why participants come. I believe, if you ask anyone who has interacted with an evangelist they’ll agree, we made the event better

But, here’s the thing, we’re disappearing from these super-massive events. Why? Because of a new hackathon pricing model. It goes a little something like this:

Kilo Giga Mega Tera
$5,000 $10,000 $25,000 $50,000
2 min Demo 2 min Demo 3 min Demo
Prize in Company Name Prize in Company Name
Recruiting Materials Recruiting Materials Recruiting Materials Recruiting Materials
Access to Emails Access to Emails
Access to Resumes

Headers also include, “Bronze, Silver, Gold, Unobtainium”

The problem with this model is, it isn’t geared to the companies with evangelists who want to promote their product. It’s geared toward companies who want to recruit new top talent. On one hand, this is awesome, hackers should get hired by the best companies, companies should be trying their damnedest to get them. It allows organizers to put on the giant events they want. However, it makes it hard for API and platform companies to justify coming.

You see, we, the API companies go to a lot of events, tens of hackathons a month. We simply cannot justify $5,000 expenditures for events, not demo, and not give a prize for the use of our API. We justify their expense as they allow us to build relationships and drive awareness. The new pricing model makes it hard.

Trust me, talks are happening: mumbles and grumbles, frank conversations after events, or over DM and in bars. Many companies who are staples of the hackathon circuit are thinking about abandoning massive events. Leaving only companies who don’t understand hackathons, companies who send marketers, not technical resources. Companies who believe a bottle opener is worth more than sitting down and talking about a hack.

If events keep trending this way, we, the API companies, can go elsewhere. We’ll keep on evangelizing. Sadly, however, we’ll be forced to leave these super-massive events and only evangelize the small intimate events, the ones that are happy just to have us, no sponsorship necessary. From a strictly economic perspective we’ll be forced to. A significant pool of mentors will be removed from massive hackathons, leaving the participants to fend for themselves. This terrifies me.

The worst part is we already are. Go, look at the sponsors of massive hackathons over the last six months. Cross reference that with a list of companies with evangelists and that against a list of massive hackathons and their sponsors from last year. You’ll be surprised, some major companies have disappeared.

I want to keep evangelizing at events with many hundreds of people. I want participants to continue to have me as a resource. I want to sit with a developer at 3am in a room of a thousand others and watch as their hack starts working. I want to watch the ten other evangelists in the room do the same thing. It’s a magical experience and it’s scary to think that it may come to an end. We need change.

Evangelisdae Raptoridae – Extinct dinosaur evangelist

We need to make events that get access to giant companies, giant budgets, and giant recruiting, but also evangelists, also platform companies, also API demos. I’ve spoken with organizers, participants, and of course evangelists, and have a lot of ideas to make this happen. I’d love to chat, to get your thoughts, perspective, and whatever else. Get in contact or (415) 580–1929. Please give me a shout.

SendGrid Team
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