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Corporate Hackathons: the Fine Line Between Engaging and Exploiting 64

New submitter dasacc22 writes "Campbell is inviting developers to hack the kitchen with their recipe API. But wait — the API is private, so first you need to submit an idea. If they like the idea, you'll be given access to develop the app. If they like the app, they may give you some money. Otherwise, you can expect to have an app that connects to an API you no longer have access to. The author of this article covers his recent experiences after engaging with Campbell's Adam Kmiec to try and answer the following: '... my question to software developers out there who are thinking of devoting any real effort to a corporate hackathon like this is: "Why?"'"
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Corporate Hackathons: the Fine Line Between Engaging and Exploiting

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  • Why? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dexter Herbivore ( 1322345 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @01:46PM (#42634259) Journal
    So that Campbell can do to developers what Andy Warhol used to do to his most fervent followers. Use them in new and interesting ways for their own amusement.
    • The answer is on the main page: 50K dollare, and 4x 10K dollars for runner-ups. That's why.
      It's like any sport out there: you can either win the big buck or go home with your dick in your hand. It's a fucking competition, that's what it is. Sheesh.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dasacc22 ( 1830082 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @02:48PM (#42634537)
        As it was put over on reddit, "Another way to look at this is that if you were to work 3 weeks for 40 hours a week on the app, and have a 1 in 30 chance of winning the $50,000 prize, then your expected value is $13/hour. And that doesn't include the time spent on the initial proposal."
        • by Anonymous Coward
          That assumes that you're chance is randomly 1 in 30. Take 30 programmers and repeat hundreds of times. Certain ones are going to win more often. A contest doesn't need to appeal to someone well employed or well certified. 1 in 30 means you're looking for the top 3 percent of amateurs interested enough in doing something like this. It's a foot in the door to an industry and possible a year's salary at their current job. $55k when the median income in the U.S. is $26k. Interestingly, even your measly
        • "... your expected value is $13/hour."

          It's a bit closer to 14, but that's still $14 per grueling, stressful hour.

          I don't think $50k is worth the effort. Especially if you have to provide your own food, transportation, lodging, etc.

        • Yeah and if you were to work 80 hours a week for 3 years, it will be much, MUCH less.
          Again, if you're looking at it strictly from money perspective, it might not be worth it. Feel free NOT to participate, then.
          Consider this: Snooker players train for years and years and the prizes are simply not worth it if you consider time spent to even have a chance of winning. Same goes for most lesser known sports such as curling and whatnot.
          Winning Romanian gymnasts used to receive a few hundred dollars during the com

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Back in the day companies would run contests where people mailed in answers to "describe what you love most about Campbell's foods, in 250 words or less" and "send in your best recipes that use Campbell's foods". Writing an app - it's the same thing, slightly updated. A big waste of time for everyone except for some executives and marketing guys.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      It's only "the same thing" if you have to first convince them that your recipe is worth looking at before you're even told how to write a recipe in their unique format. Or even what pots and pans you'll be allowed to use.
  • by Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @01:55PM (#42634297)

    That's the question to ask. Experience? Fun? Bragging rights? Whatever... if you can't think of anything like that, all you'd be doing is bolster the company's bottom line. Which personally I wouldn't even consider doing unless money was changing hands.

    And in this age of IP-madness, check the rules carefully. If you write code for such an event, are you handing over any rights? Would you still have the right to use that code yourself elsewhere? You might expect so - that's not the point. Make sure. Before getting into any agreements, or spending significant effort on it.

    • And in this age of IP-madness

      Man, tell me about it. IPv4 addresses are running out, and adoption of IPv6 is still so damn slow. It's crazy!

    • by ZeroPly ( 881915 )
      Their soup is overpriced shit that appeals to people too lazy to explore what else is out there. If you fall into that demographic, are somewhat dim-witted, yet somehow have learned the basics of a programming language, this challenge is perfect for you...
      • Yes, I think Amy's is much better. However, nothing beats homemade soup. And really, soup is the easiest thing to make and lasts for a week or two... don't know why you'd buy it anymore.
    • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @02:36PM (#42634493)

      That's the question to ask. Experience? Fun? Bragging rights? Whatever...

      Campbell's has been around since 1869. Revenues $8 billion US a year. A company with a global reach and instant brand name recognition in North America. Clients like that do not fall from the sky ---- if you want their attention you are going to have to work for it.

      • Clients like that do not fall from the sky ---- if you want their attention you are going to have to work for it.

        You seem to have software development confused with advertising, and besides, the best advertising agencies have billion dollar companies coming to them, competing for their time. If you want the best, you have to be willing to pay for it.

        Contests are scams to find young, hungry people just good enough to produce something useful, but still naive enough not to recognize its true value. As the gra

      • "... if you want their attention you are going to have to work for it."

        I look at it the other way around: if they want MY attention, they can afford to pay for it.

        • Besides... if you are going to hold your convention (contest, whatever) in New York City, the only people you are going to get are those who don't need the money anyway. You aren't going to get starving young programmers (or many, anyway) to fly to New York and rent a room.
    • That's the question to ask. Experience? Fun? Bragging rights? Whatever... if you can't think of anything like that, all you'd be doing is bolster the company's bottom line.

      ... While you might be bolstering their bottom line, you're gaining experience that makes you a more competitive candidate in the future. It may not pay off immediately, and it may not apply to the majority of established developers, but for a younger programmer? This is an excellent way to gain industry-specific experience - even if you're not selected, and even if your program doesn't work as well as the winner (or work well, period), you have an additional talking point for your interviews, and an addit

  • by tommeke100 ( 755660 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @02:17PM (#42634397)
    ...That way we don't have to invest > 1M$ in R&D to do it ourselves!
  • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @02:18PM (#42634405)

    From a probability point of view, here is the true value of that thing:

    (Total prize: $50,000 + $10,000) / (Number of challengers: 30) = $2,000

    The access to the API is limited to 3 weeks. This means that what they offer is the privilege of working for $16 per hour as long as you initially provided a good idea for free.

    Financially speaking, one is better off working at Mikee Dees for 3 weeks and using the wages to buy lottery tickets (you also get free soft drinks while you work if I'm not mistaken).

  • by kawabago ( 551139 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @02:24PM (#42634441)
    Campbell is demonstrating exactly why closed source is bad for everyone. Campbell has wasted no one knows how much time and effort creating a library to create and manage recipes then doesn't want anyone to use it, rendering it completely useless. Campbell's could have saved considerable time creating a recipe application instead. No one gains from a library no one can use. Maintaining a library for no one is a waste of resources. Everyone loses in this closed source stupidity created by Campbell's Soup.
    • This isn't really an issue of closed source, it's an issue of pointlessly restricted access. One could quite easily (and still workably) have an open API to a closed source system.

      As you say though, spending time creating an API that no-one gets access to really makes little sense- unless one assumes that the API was only ever intended as an excuse and necessary component for a marketing-driven PR campaign. Maybe it does do something useful and they're going to use it internally within the company, but I
      • If you RTFA and download the docs, the API doesn't sound like much. They could probably get someone to hack it together in a week, including sticking a bunch of recipes in a database in some reasonably searchable way. And once you read what they're asking for and start thinking of what you would do in response, it very quickly seems to make more sense to roll your own, as they don't make it sound like the API is backed with a ton of data. It took only a few seconds to come up with a bunch of ideas that w

    • It's not really about closed source Maya, 3ds Max, After Effects, AutoCad all are closed source but they have public APIs that don't change often and that enables 3rd party developers to write plugins for. And many do, and many can monetize it.

  • This kind of thing happens to creatives all the time. Designer are asked to submit logos, ad agencies are asked to come up with campaigns, and developers are asked to build software, usually by companies trying to get more then they are willing to pay for. Most professional designers, developers, marketers will recognize this kind of "opportunity" for what is it: a shallow attempt to exploit them. Which is why most professionals, especially successful ones, would laugh at such a project. The people who are
    • Which is why most professionals, especially successful ones, would laugh at such a project. The people who are really being exploited by this are people who haven't earned much a reputation yet.

      The pro learns to swallow his pride and admit that much of his work will be done "on spec." That he will be fighting against a great many others for the attention of a potential client --- all with credentials at least as good as his own.

      • The pro learns to swallow his pride and admit that much of his work will be done "on spec."

        Where are you people coming from? Since when was Slashdot populated with so many advertising people ignorant of software? That ain't the way it works. You're a Jack Lemmon come to lecture a room full of Alec Baldwins. It's comical.

        Here's how it works in the real world: even the mediocre "pro" can easily make six figures doing things a hell of a lot more interesting and impressive than recipe apps for a soup company. O

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It's called speculative work, commonly shortened to spec work. And yeah, it's exploitation. [thelogofactory.com]
      • I normally don't like "mod parent ups"- but the link in the parent is very informative. Even if you're not directly involved in the graphic design field, the general principles strike me as some that could quite easily be stretched to various aspects of the IT field.
  • If they actually put the code into production, your payoff will come from Russia via Silk Road.

  • by daath93 ( 1356187 ) on Saturday January 19, 2013 @02:51PM (#42634563)
    Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.
  • The answer is, pretty obviously, "NO!".
  • my question to software developers out there who are thinking of devoting any real effort to a corporate hackathon like this is: "Why?"'

    Why... Well, if currently unemployed, you could do worse things with your time.

    Perhaps you really like Campbells (can't say I understand it, but we've all met "corporation fans" who have some sick obsession with otherwise uninteresting companies), and just want to participate in anything they do.

    Perhaps you just want access to the API to see if you can find a way to
  • Well, I'm sure the folks writing the code that talks to the API will have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement. Such an agreement states that the if you let slip the information under any means that you agree you've irreparably harmed the discloser of information. That's the most damaging kind of harm there is, which may even be on the same level as a murder if you think about it, esp. considering the amount of money the disclosee risks forfeiting.

    The state of computer security and information security security in general is so ridiculously near non-existent in any sense of the word that it would be foolish to sign any NDA, not just one for an eKitchenSink API. There is not a single common desktop or server OS that can not be readily breached by someone of with sufficient knowledge; Indeed the NSA and even China's Cyber Army has asserted they hold 0-day expolits for every OS. Do you think there's a super intelligent breed of hacker they've developed to obtain this power, or do you think that there are crackers & hackers with such skills that they happened to recruit? If the latter do you think they've recruited them ALL? -or- even a significant percentage?

    So, here we have a situation where I can not in good faith sign a contract saying essentially that I won't ever disclose information to 3rd parties while there are more 3rd parties every day who can just reach into my systems and take that data at any time. These are not hypothetical statements, my security has been breached before. Now I only use Linux and use MS Win via VM; However even these precautions aren't enough to prevent a diligent hacker from discovering an exploit or a cracker with a few thousand dollars from buying said exploit... Not that I'm saying I live in constant fear of being compromised, on the contrary, I most assuredly do not fear because I don't sign that type of NDA and take on such risks. I need not fear, only keep backups in case a compromise occurs. When faced with eating a fish that may or may not be deathly poisonous vs one that is known not to be fatally dangerous, I choose the latter.

    I always refuse to sign those sorts of contracts and instead propose that any disclosure by me to a 3rd party has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have been a willful disclosure, and that unwillful disclosures include but are not limited to having my own security breached. It's worth noting that many companies will not agree to such terms, and in such cases I simply move along to another bid. In other words, I've naturally gravitated toward working predominantly on (improving) open source software to add a feature that a business needs/wants because a simple risk analysis prevents me from signing most any proprietary NDA. What of the company's own employees? Do they bear such risk of irreparable harm to their business and sign away right to defend themselves against such claims where information leakage has occurred if their workstation is targeted by crackers?

    Also, If I've got to disclose my Application Idea prior to accessing the API then I'm at a severe disadvantage. This is the Information Age, you'd do well to learn a bit of information politics. I'm doing the work to come up with an Idea that may or may not even be possible via their API, and giving that work to them for free for the CHANCE that I might be ALLOWED to benefit from the idea? Say they turn down the idea, can they not simply run off and create the app themselves now? If not, if the NDA is bidirectional and they will not disclose my Idea, then they are doomed. I will simply propose hundreds of ideas under that contract, and drag them into court as soon as another app implements the features I've described... I don't even have to develop anything! If the risk is not bidirectional, then it's not worth the chance to take considering the market share, and that other markets for ideas exist.

    Finally, If you want to prevent unlicensed 3rd party API usage then implement a secure code signing chain and make the API

  • I wonder if a proposal to scrape their entire data set and offer a superior API to the public would be accepted.

  • what are you signing a way for the a shot at winning??

    Do they own your idea and can they patent it?

    Do they own your code that they can use at are time and they only have to pay the top people off?

    What if you have a good idea and some in house takes and builds on it as there own app use it as a base and they give you jack shit?

  • FWIW: These guys seem to be doing it right over at AmericanGreetings: http://hack.ag.com/ [ag.com] (their local event actually going on now) https://twitter.com/AGHackday [twitter.com]
  • I've won several hundred dollars and some hardware in various hackathons. They are generally fun, let you meet like minded individuals, and force you to think about problems you might not have considered.

    Even though they might not make sense from an hourly rate standpoint, you will pretty much get something just for showing up and make valuable contacts. I haven't had a corporation steal anything I've done yet (even when I won).

    Hackathons are much more about proofs of concept and getting feedback from the

  • I call this kind of thing 'open season'. Some sleazy corporate, profiting from the buzz around 'hackathons', 'sprints' and 'open source' [tm] pays for some pizza and maybe a $5k or £5k 'prize' for 'game-changing' ideas. Result, the naive [and geeky people, including myself, tend to have pretty literal mindsets] get sucked in and end up giving the corporate several £100k of code and good ideas.

    A variation [and I'm going to one in London in February, but I behave in a fairly guarded fashion] is
  • "Contests" and "Challenges" are becoming commonplace. It is another way for government and industry to get work done for little to no cost. When R&D is funded in this way, we should not be surprised at a workforce with declining skills and a population with flagging interest in STEM.

Today is the first day of the rest of your lossage.