Is a Hackathon of interest at all to Language Developers?


I'm posting into this forum because I know more developers read this one, so please read on, your opinion is very valuable for us.

Earlier this year we ran a hackathon in San Francisco during SDL Innovate. We put quite a lot of effort into seeing who could attend and who could not, and as most of our developers are in Europe we unsurprisingly had plenty of comments that if the event was in Europe then it would be easier to attend (we did have some Language Developers attend that though and I believe they got a lot from it). So, in September we are planning to run a Hackathon in Europe, in Amsterdam.... hopefully you are all aware of this as it's been advertised in here and we sent mailers to all the registered developers.

To register for the event you go here and click on register.

Unfortunately so far we don't have anyone registered from the Language Community, so this of course makes us wonder if there is any interest at all?  So I've got two questions I'm pondering with:

  1. Are you guys interested in a Hackathon or is this something more interesting for independent professional developers?  I mean professional because I'm assuming you mostly have day jobs and developing is just part of your role and you do it because it helps you integrate your systems and create tools plugins that help you in your day jobs.  Taking time out for this isn't interesting or you don't have the control over your time for something like this.
  2. What can we do that would be of benefit to a developer community like this?  What can we provide to help you improve your skills and get more out of the solutions we are providing?

You can see I'm of the opinion we don't have too many full time developers working for themselves in here. But perhaps I'm wrong and you're all too busy to see the things we are doing to try and help grow the community.

I'm, we're, interested in your feedback so I hope you can take the time to respond and help us get a handle on what we should be doing that would be of more interest for the Language Community of Developers.

Looking forward to your feedback...

  • Ciao Paul,

    It is disappointing to hear that we are not getting more involvement here from developers in the industry. I can't help thinking that this might not be anything to do with the desire of the developers themselves but more to do with the policies of the companies that they work in; I have experienced this.

    Not sure if this helps, but I would think that there are more than a few factors that could influence this, as follows:

    Companies exposing talent to the open market

    These competitions offer an amazing opportunity for the developers themselves; as well as the self learning nature of these events, the developers enter the world of expanding their networking=> in building up a relationship with other developers and creating an awareness of all the other possibilities that they might not have thought about.

    From the companies perspective: after investing many years in their developers working in a specific domain, it might be a scary thought of exposing talent to the public like this, even though having a technical representative for their company at this level has an enormous advantage with marketing and offers a huge learning curve with hands on experience including direct contact with the developers from the Studio team.

    Company policies

    Sharing is good but surprisingly some companies don't see it like this :-) It could very well be that the policies for some companies have restrictions in this respect that don't permit their developers to share their code; and/or there is a vague nature associated with it that enforces a sort of unsure or not sure what code can be shared... The developer simply doesn't want to risk possible confrontations of that nature with their company.

    Developer awareness

    The developers are simply not aware of the competition, whether this is a problem related to the companies they work in or developers not following the forums... I have seen some developers in companies that work with the Studio API but have never connected to the OX forum. Some developers might very well have everything they need from the SDK and API and never need to ask a question or follow up with the forums; as strange as that seems... the API is pretty complete and there are some pretty good examples available from the SDK

    Developer Involvement

    I must admit that when I first started working with the Studio API it was a bit unclear to me how to get started, simply getting over that first hurdle with understanding how to implement the interfaces etc... this was back in 2010; I think I must have been one of the first developers to get involved (seems like forever ago now :-) ). Anyway, most developers from the our industry, even though they have studied Computer Science and have degree's in their area of expertize, this does not automatically assume that they are at a level that permits them to start using the Studio API without a sufficient learning curve.

    I think the first impressions are the most important in that respect; you need to cater for the extremely adequate and other extreme as well if you want to get the most out of it. It's then up to the developer if they have the desire to commit to a more adventurous involvement or not.

    The Studio API is not the easiest that I have ever worked with, but the dedicated OX forums along with the example projects, ensures that developers 'should' have all the tools they need to create their own solutions.

    The easier the API is to understand and work with = more involvement from the community = more competiveness = more idea's and marking for SDL

    Location and Expenses

    Amsterdam is an amazing city; lived there for over 3 years (when I was single) & would highly recommend anyone to go visit :-) (btw: my wife would never go for allowing me to travel there now on my own hahah)

    You have to consider that travelling to a new destination like this might be intimidating to some people, including the cost of travelling and staying there for a few days might not be financially feasible for all developers.

    hope this gives you some idea's as to why,



  • Hi Paul,

    I am interested in the Hackaton and would like to join.

  • Hello Paul,

    I can speak only for myself, but I guess, generally the point you make about most language developers being not full time independent professional developers is correct.

    If I look at my own situation, I am clearly project driven when it comes to developing a tool etc. So, if there is a project I can do for a customer I sit down and write the code. Most of the time, though, I do something else for a living and since there is not much money in selling add-on tools, it is at most a side business and has the "hobby" feel to it.

    This is, why I would not dare to measure my coding skills against those of a professional developer in the course of a hackathon. In addition, I do not meet some of the prerequisites such as having an online code repository etc. I do not even use a programming language that serious developers would acknowledge as a "real" programming language (I still happily use;-)).

    So, all in all - the SDL Hackathon feels like something that is not for me and my skill level but more like what professional developers would go for.

    One more thing is the timing: I would need to know about an event at least 2 or 3 months ahead in order to plan it in, otherwise chances are that the dates are already booked by a customer (which is the case this time as well).

    And last but not least, I am not such a frequent events visitor. I have problems doing a lot of "small talk" and often I am distracted by my daily business and get into writing emails, working on issues etc. etc. while sitting and trying to listen to a presentation. This is why I rather seldomly go to events if I am not a speaker myself.

    Generally, I like the idea of the Hackathon, though - its great that you organise something like this and I wish you all the best with it!


  • Hi Paul,

    I don’t know exactly but I could imagine that some people may be afraid to not have the competencies or the required level of programming to attend.

    If I take my experience, I extended my knowledge of C# while developing my first plugin for Studio 2011. So, it was not just about discovering the SDL APIs, it was about extending my competencies.

    In San Francisco, I also had the impression that the developers working on Digital Experience platforms (i.e. the non-language related products) were more experienced developers or even professional developers. I can imagine that many other language developers are programming like I do, i.e. besides other activities. Therefore, I believe that a hackathon is maybe better suited for developers extending Tridion, Media Manager, etc. For the language developers, maybe a forum where participants would be explained how to start developing a plugin (similar to the tutorial videos but live), with hands-on exercises and QA sessions where participants would bring their own projects and could ask questions to specialists like Romulus or Sorin while working on their own plugins.

    I could imagine that it is the main difference: digital experience developers are trained developers and do not need assistance in the programming work. The hackathon is a good forum for them to develop stuff which they may consider as useful and new but for which they have no time or mandate because it is not in the framework of what they are required to do by their employers or clients. Language developers are maybe more interested in the programming assistance at first rather than in the challenge of developing something revolutionary.

    Nevertheless, it was great fun to take part to the San Francisco hackathon. I really loved meeting other developers and exchanging experience.

    Just a few thoughts...


  • Hi Paul,

    I can probably only speak for myself, but my main problems with something like a hackathon are:

    - I don’t really know what a hackathon is and how I can benefit from it. Maybe the Language Community developers are different. We’re probably not even real developers.
    - We ourselves have adopted the learning by doing approach: read the documentation and try things out. Follow the developer posts and post any questions on the community. So why attend something externally.
    - I think a number of ETUG members use external developers as they do not have the inhouse resources for programming.
    - As you say time is limited and further developing the tools is not our main task.

    I’m not saying that I believe such events are not good, it’s just hard to find time to attend such events.

    Best regards,

  • Hi Henk,

    That's great to hear. Did you register already?

  • I agree that 'casual' developers might be afraid to enter into a competition with full-time developers. Maybe people are therefore a bit anxious to enter into a developer competition on site. I am wondering whether a roadshow-like event for developers would be more successful, similar to the Apple developer convention where one of the SDL developers present a new SDK, and participants get a chance to present their work.
  • Hi, Paul,

    I think your analysis is spot on. Most the language developers I have met would probably fit your description.

    They are not professional coders but more experts on the tools who do lots of other things around the tools and developing is jut one part.

    Talking with a colleague about the Hackathlon, he said it would be “mir eine Nummer (oder auch zwei oder drei) zu groß”

    (one, two or three numbers to big for his size), a feeling I quite share (for me it would be seven or either numbers too big :-).

    Another possible issue, as mentioned, that people employed in public or private organisations cannot probably share the output of their work. At the very least, they might need permissions from their legal departments. I would also tend to think that taking cash prizes can be against the rules of some organisations, specially public ones.

    Time and budget constraints are also an issue, specially for those for whom development is not the main task and there are other events which appear more relevant. I must also say that, with the release of Studio 2015, there seem to be lots of interesting events organised by SDL in September October.

    What might potentially raise more interest? I would think that some kind of workshop where specific areas of the SDK are presented and discussed with practical examples.

    Or workshops where participants present their internal developments showing how they use the APIs. In ETUG, there was a session where we had a chance to discuss our custom developments unfortunately, there was not much time not look into any detail and some ETUG participants could join because they were parallel session about MultiTerm.

    Maybe organising such workshops around an existing event, a day before or day later my help.

    I think that organising the Hackathlon is really great.

  • Hi guys,

    I'd like to thank you for all your feedback so far, and if anyone has anything else to add (especially if it's different) then we'd be very pleased to read it.  I think it's clear from all of this feedback that there are things we can do in the future that would be more appropriate for this audience so we're going to go away and think about this.  In the meantime we are cancelling the Hackathon part of the Open House week in Amsterdam.  It's an expensive event to run, and without sufficient interest it makes little sense to do it.

    So apologies to  who seems to be the only person interested at the moment.

    BUT!!  Don't forget we still have the two days where we are open and anyone can come along to ask any question they like, get some training etc.  I'll be there (not that I can help with the developer stuff!!) and so will  and we're looking forward to seeing anyone who can make it.

    So bring your laptop, bring your questions, and I'm sure these two days will be a great opportunity to progress anything you are working on, to get started if you are just thinking about it and would like a kick start, and to enjoy a bit of technical cameraderie in a friendly environment where you can learn as much as you've got time for!

  • I was enjoying a holiday so I'm a bit late, but in the future I would also be interested in participating on a Hackathon (if my employer permits).

    Kind regards,