The thorny problem of developer relations


Keen eyed observers believe the winning entry in Salesforce’s $1 million hackathon didn’t comply with Salesforce’s own entry regulations. It has stirred a hornet’s nest that provide lessons for the future.

Oh boy. Salesforce has walked itself into a storm of vitriol over the outcome of the $1 million Dreamforce hackathon. I feel bad for several people, not least Alex Williams who I know well and who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. He was one of the judges. What’s the problem here?

Keen eyed observers believe the winning entry didn’t comply with Salesforce’s own entry regulations. This is grounded in the fact that the winners had presented a demo at an event some weeks prior to the hackathon’s starting date.

There are also allegations that some entries were not judged at all. This is based on claims that submitted videos were not watched and that there is no trace of some entrants’ code being run.

There’s also some confusion over whether all attending developers paid the $99 entrance fee, were allowed in for free or were refunded although one commenter to my earlier post on Salesforce R&D appears to clarify the position.

Adam Seligman, who evangelises Salesforce developer efforts attempts to set the record straight but in the process only seems to have made matters worse.

In short, it’s a mess and a good number of developers are up in arms over the situation.

Having been part of a development team  in the past (I was the cheerleader, not one of the coders), I know how disappointing it can be when things don’t work out well for you. In our case we’d sweated 12 weeks to bring what we thought was a truly revolutionary idea to the table only to discover that the finalist judges didn’t really get it. Such is life but you learn from it.

Along the way, we got a lot of help from the organizers who emphasised to us that success comes from having a great pitch. Ours was not well rehearsed enough to cut it.

What can we learn from the Salesforce issue?

  1. Developers generally don’t care much for marketing. I think that’s a major problem and one that Jon Reed has eloquently addressed.
  2. Building cool stuff with the latest and greatest new technology because you can may be fun but it doesn’t pay the bills. Ergo, hackathons with commercial purpose should be encouraged.
  3. Developers who moan about the fact that a commercial enterprise profits from these events need to grow up. I’ve previously warned about how commercial vendors inevitably profit as they should and especially if they’re putting up a sensible bounty.
  4. It is difficult to know what went awry in this case but in one sense it is wholly understandable. Immediately prior to the judging, Kendall Collins told me they anticipated a long night. Clearly the marketing kudos of having so many people on site coding got ahead of the practical reality of making the competition work as well as it could have. I’m told there were 145 final entries. If correct then selecting one among them would have been difficult under any circumstances. That’s one good reason for running the competition over a much longer time frame.
  5. Judging the final winner by a small committee represents a lost opportunity. In the future, I’d recommend the final judging of however many the promoter wishes to select – say six – is left to customers. This could be done by a simple voting system. Of course that could be open to being gamed but then it could be augmented by assessment by an independent panel. It won’t be perfect but would help ameliorate doubts over fairness in the final judging process.
  6. Affiliations should be made public. In contests I’ve judged, knowing who is on stage and their background brings important context to the entry.


There’s a dire shortage of great developers willing to work on enterprise stuff. As Matt Thompson points out – enterprise app development is hard.

However such competitions are organised, it’s  almost impossible to please everyone but the fact so many coders showed up to the Salesforce event is testament to the idea that platforms win and especially if there’s a good chunk of change at stake. I say bring it on!

Disclosure: Salesforce is a premier partner

    Comments are closed.

    1. tpowlas says:

      On this:
      “Ergo, hackathons with commercial purpose should be encouraged.”
      Exactly, and to me as a customer / spectator, these are the best ones to see at the end – what is the value to the customer, and to the company?  Those are the most compelling ones.

    2. says:

      tpowlas There’s a lot of debate around that Tammy – I say if you don’t like it then don’t go and STFU while you’re at it.