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The Risks of Entering Programming Contests

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch dept.

Programming 154

snydeq writes "Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister warns developers of the hidden risks of entering programming competitions, which are on the rise since NetFlix awarded $1 million to BellKor's Pragmatic Chaos in 2009. 'Web and software companies offer prizes for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is simply to raise awareness, interest, and participation in a given software platform or service,' McAllister writes. But the practice of offering and entering software prizes is not without concerns. Privacy implications, class-action lawsuits — many of the prizes leave participants vulnerable to prosecution. Worse is the possibility of handing hard work over to a company without reward. 'Contests like the Netflix Prize are sponsored by commercial entities that stand to profit from the innovations produced by the entrants. Those who participate invest valuable time toward winning the prize, but if they fail to meet the deadline (or to produce the leading results) their efforts could go completely unrewarded. Depending on the terms of the contest, however, the sponsor might still be able to make use of the runners-up's innovations — which, of course, would be a whole lot cheaper than hiring developers.'"

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GPL (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33243730)

GPL your entry.

Re:GPL (4, Insightful)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243770)

That will most likely disqualify you based on the terms of the competition which usually contains clauses about them being able to use your work or some sort of copyright transfer.

Re:GPL (3, Informative)

0racle (667029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243870)

The GPL does not preclude that, though it would still most likely disqualify you from competition anyway.

Re:GPL (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243922)

Since they are usually using these contests as R&D for proprietary products, yes it would. That is why they usually also ask for copyright transfers.

Re:GPL (1)

tigre (178245) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244276)

IANAL, but if you transfer the copyright, they are free to reuse without a license so the version you transfer can still be used by anyone under the GPL, but they are free to modify as needed without any "viral infection". All the same, it would probably still be unacceptable to the lawyers drafting the rules.

Re:GPL (2, Informative)

reebmmm (939463) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244626)

I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer. It seems to me that order would matter.

If you assign your copyright first, then there is no GPL issue. The GPL simply wouldn't apply. The assignee (i.e., the new owner) did not need the license to use the software. And even if GPL did apply, they are under no obligation to continue distributing it and you have given up your right to do so (e.g., you sold all your rights to them).

If you make a GPL transfer first, and the assign second, you could have a copy of the software that could subsequently be transfered under the GPL. The real obvious issue is that a properly prepared assignment reps against this scenario. You are likely going to be in breach of the assignment.

Re:GPL (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244862)

And be immediately disqualified.

Pardonez-moi (5, Insightful)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243758)

But aren't these risks, for the most part, kind of obvious? It's sort of like saying your employer might exploit you for free labor from your unpaid internship. Duh!

Re:Pardonez-moi (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33243820)

I for one was shocked to find out that if I entered a contest, there was a possibility I might not win. My mom always told me I would succeed at whatever I tried. Does this mean that I might not get $75 million dollars for the lottery ticket I bought this morning? I wish someone had told me that before I quit my job.

Re:Pardonez-moi (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244582)

Your mother must be a liberal.

Re:Pardonez-moi (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244786)

Oh no. you will win.

If you dont, come to my house and I'll give you the money.

-- Bill Gates.

P.S: Bring a speedo and a gallon of cooking oil...

Re:Pardonez-moi (0, Troll)

future assassin (639396) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244006)

But you're forgetting were living in the age of compensation and nannying. How are we expected to lose a contest with out being compensated for our losing efforts.

Re:Pardonez-moi (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244268)

A company makes use of someone's work and you respond by mocking the idea that people should get paid for their work. You must really be sucking at the teat of our corporate overlords.

Re:Pardonez-moi (0, Offtopic)

pgmrdlm (1642279) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244920)

A company makes use of someone's work and you respond by mocking the idea that people should get paid for their work.

You mean like artists SHOULD get paid for their work? Electronic or otherwise? Oh wait, this is slash dot. The land of double standards.

Re:Pardonez-moi (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245346)

Artists should get paid, every performance, just like a software developer. I get paid when I show up.

Re:Pardonez-moi (2, Interesting)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244890)

So you're OK with contests used as a substitute for hiring people to work on your projects?

Re:Pardonez-moi (4, Insightful)

edmicman (830206) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245082)

Yes, if the people entering the contests agree to the terms and conditions before-hand. If I say 'hey, do this work for me for free, and I won't offer you any compensation' and someone willingly does it, what the heck is the problem? Are we in Bizarro World today?

Re:Pardonez-moi (2, Insightful)

apoc.famine (621563) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245206)

The thing is, you can't reliably use a contest as a substitute for hiring people. When you hire people, you interview, pick people with the correct skillset, and then tell them what to do. Contests are voluntary. There's no guarantee you'll get anyone finishing your project. There's even less of a guarantee that they'll finish it to-spec.

Using a contest in lieu of employees for anything is a gamble. Not enough prize money, and you won't get competent people working on it. You'll also have to spend employee time weeding through all the cruft submitted. Then there's the legal questions about the code submitted.

Unless you're a big-name company, with a solid reputation, I don't think that we really have to worry about exploitation via contests on any large scale. Even then, I don't know how many times a company could pull it off before everyone started calling out "bullshit". If you publicly pronounce that your in-house staff can't do a job too many times, everyone takes notice...

Re:Pardonez-moi (5, Insightful)

biobogonics (513416) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244034)

But aren't these risks, for the most part, kind of obvious? It's sort of like saying your employer might exploit you for free labor from your unpaid internship. Duh!

How is this situation different from any other so called "talent" contest? Look at the dancers who did not win on "So You Think You Can Dance?". It's the same reason for the spread of "reality" TV. These shows are inexpensive to produce - just like game shows were.

Re:Pardonez-moi (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33245176)

And heck the best part about stuff like that crappy thing called "So you think you can dance" is that even those who do not win end up with exposure they would not have otherwise had. So sometimes the biggest winner isn't even the entrant that "Won" the contest at hand.

Re:Pardonez-moi (2, Interesting)

sohp (22984) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245198)

There a many corporate-sponsored contests like this photography, mostly geared at amateurs. Back in the 80s I learned to look at the terms carefully, and if anywhere in them was a clause giving up rights to the photographs entered to the contest-holder, to run far away. Prestigious contests always make it clear that all rights remain with the photographer, although they may legitimately request a time-limited right to display entries for promotional purposes only, not for resale ever.

Stock agencies used to use these contests to pick up vast swaths of decent, if unremarkable, photographs for almost nothing, and with no pesky trouble like having to keep track of who took the photo for credit and payment. I imagine now with Flickr and the flood of digital images, they don't really have work even that hard.

All this remains true for programming contests, and really any contest where the creative work of an individual is made available to another party.

the difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33245272)

1) People in these contests often have a day job - the "talent" is not their line of work.
2) None of those shows in and of themselves devaluate the market. Dancing and singing on a show does not necessarily produce something direct that lessens the need for employing dancers or singers. "Talent" contests benefit from the fact that people enjoy watching a competition...as evidenced by "American Idol", those on the show need not even have any talent.

So while the motives of people going on these "Talent" shows and those entering contests may be the same, the results are vastly different. I point you to 99designs.com and the resulting slashdot article on graphic designers and their perceived worth. Welcome to the crowd of the expendables.

Doctors and Lawyers have learned to value the worth of their time. Why haven't developers? They are either a) desperate, b) have no sense of business, c) distracted by fun shiny problem.

Re:Pardonez-moi (1)

atomicxblue (1077017) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244084)

Yeah, I was thinking that same way. Granted there are businesses who will try to take advantage of people, not all of them are like that. I'm sorry, but I just can't be as fatalistic as the author. :D

Re:Pardonez-moi (2, Insightful)

Rivalz (1431453) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244220)

Yes I often go to various companies I intend to work for. Offer them each to pay me in advanced for the chance I might choose to work for them.
I of course will not refund the money as they had the privilege of competing for me to select them for my place of employment.
The problem with my argument is no one in their right mind would agree to it.
So why agree to a contest on the off chance you are one of two things (Extremely over qualified / talented enough to beat everyone else) or (Not doing it for the money and would do it anyhow).
Chances are you want to know you are the best but really you arent. You are just the best of a group of people who want to prove they are the best or looking to get lucky.

Re:Pardonez-moi (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244286)

>Yes I often go to various companies I intend to work for. Offer them each to pay me in advanced for the chance I might choose to work
>for them.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protection_racket [wikipedia.org]

Re:Pardonez-moi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244374)

Without a threat, that would not be a protection racket, since without the threat there's nothing to be protected from. What he's proposing is perfectly legal, it's just no one would choose to agree to it. In the same way, contests like the NetFlix prize are perfectly legal, but in the Netflix case, many people are willing to agree to their terms. I honestly don't see how anyone could possibly have a problem with the fundamental concept of a contest. You give up something to enter, sometimes time, sometimes money, sometimes something else. In exchange, you're given a chance at a prize, which you may or may not win.

Re:Pardonez-moi (2, Funny)

HelioWalton (1821492) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244684)

Joke spoiler alert! The "protection racket" link was an insinuation that Rivalz is not someone they would want working for them and that they would go to extreme lengths to prevent him working for them...

Re:Pardonez-moi (1)

easterberry (1826250) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245114)

you are creating content they will use to make money any there is only a very small chance you'll get paid for it. Did you notice the part where they said even if you don't win they still use you product?

what about pre / in interview code samples or prob (4, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243782)

what about pre / in interview code samples or probation period coding?

what stop them from firing you right at the end of the probation period and getting free work.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243800)

Nothing as your contract usually includes a clause about them owning copyright to the work you create while employed by them.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (2, Insightful)

PolyDwarf (156355) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243862)

Are there people who work, for free, in a "probation period", where those people are not interns?

Seriously... If any job I was applying for said "Well, Mr Polydwarf, we like you and all.. but we're going to need you to sit at a desk and pound some code out, just to see if we *really* like you.. Oh yeah, no paycheck, either. But, you do get to bask in the glow of your monitor and congratulate yourself on a job well done."

Benefits are a different story (a lot of places, they won't kick in until some amount of time in, like 90 days)... But paycheck?

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (2, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244158)

Where the hell did you work with no benefits for 90 days? I've never seen it go longer than 2 weeks (generally because the health insurance processed forms every 2 weeks).

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244380)

>Where the hell did you work with no benefits for 90 days?

There are a *lot* of people working on 1099 versus W-2 terms. Many people choose this route, for all kinds of reasons. Many jobs are offered only on those terms.

I've been able to hire contractors where a regular employee hire would have been absolutely impossible, often because the complications of adding a regular employee far outweigh paying a higher price to a contractor. This isn't uncommon at all in our industry.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (1)

brentrad (1013501) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244628)

Uhh...every job I've had as long as I can remember? (USA BTW) Health insurance usually kicks in 30 days or so after hiring, but then they usually have pre-existing conditions clauses for an additional 90 days or 6 months (an abomination IMO, because everyone has pre-existing conditions!) Lots of places you can't use your PTO (paid time off) for 90 days, and then of course you have to earn those hours first by working a set amount of hours.

And I'm not talking as a contractor, I'm talking straight-up regular salaried work.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (2, Informative)

sorak (246725) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245028)

I've seen it at a few places, but never worked for large corporations. There was a job secured by a headhunter, where you weren't technically an employee of the company until 90 days had passed (although you did get paid). Then there is my current employer, who didn't provide health insurance for 90 days. I don't think I've ever had a job that gave out Health Insurance without a 90 day period.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244028)

I can't believe either of those is a serious problem:

Interview coding: do they really use you to solve a real problem they are having? And you are successful in understanding their problem domain in an hour, and providing a useful solution? Seriously? They'd have been run into the ground by more efficient competitors.

Probation period? Who signs on to a job like that?

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244266)

Well, I have helped solve real world problems in an interview. Naturally they offered me the job. If you do know that much more about the domain than the people hiring you they'd be fools not to take you on.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (2, Informative)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244348)

>Probation period? Who signs on to a job like that?

Almost everybody at almost every level. Even when the opportunity has long-term prospects, the offer is usually on a contract basis where the employer defers the option to hire to a benefits-eligible position. This is pretty standard in programming jobs nowadays.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244466)

I have never seen a job like that. And i've taken 4 interviews this year.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (5, Funny)

Achra (846023) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244064)

Once, in a Microsoft interview, I was asked to write a memory allocator. I always assumed that after I left, the conversation went like:
"Great, copy this down. Tell the next guy to write us a sound driver."

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (0)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244170)

Once, in a Microsoft interview, I was asked to write a memory allocator. I always assumed that after I left, the conversation went like:
"Great, copy this down.

You might think that, but let's face it, memory management in Windows hasn't visibly improved in decades*. Any number of interview candidate submissions could have helped, and yet it hasn't.

*I kid. I'm not a Windows fanboi, but at least Win 7 x64 isn't thrashing all the damn time on my system at home. It's almost Linux-grade!

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (5, Funny)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244246)

You might think that, but let's face it, memory management in Windows hasn't visibly improved in decades*. Any number of interview candidate submissions could have helped, and yet it hasn't.

Their problem is they weren't sure which one was best; so they used them all, and set up a round-robin system to select which manager to use for which process instance.

Quote Reply (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244410)

The fear of libertarianism is the terror that the mediocre feel at the possibility of being judged on their merits.

+1 insightful. Of course, after the invisible hand has snuffed out the bottom 50%, there's always another bottom 50%. Only one person can be the winner.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33245464)

I'm not a Windows fanboi, but at least Win 7 x64 isn't thrashing all the damn time on my system at home. It's almost Linux-grade!

Because it is a 64-bit OS!!

One may try to explain to the morons out there that running 32-bit OS on 2G+ RAM machine is *stupid* due to problems with *address space* (not RAM, address space), yet, they don't listen and try to convince others that 32-bit is fine until you have more than 4G ram!! Then they sit there bitching that Microsoft can't write a memory manager wile watching their disk thrashing mad with 2.5G free on their 4G machine.

Running 64-bit fixes thrashing problems just as IPv6 fixes routing madness that is the internet today. But again, most morons will say "WTF? I don't need more than 1 IPv4 address for my computer!". These are the people that just don't get IT.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (0, Troll)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244520)

Tell the next guy to write us a sound driver.
Sound in Windows hasn't been a problem for at least fifteen years. Can the same be said for Linux?

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (2, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244808)

REally...

tell that to the tons of guys that fight with it daily on the Pro recording boards.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (2, Insightful)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244330)

What sort of idiot would take a job with an unpaid probation period???

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (3, Insightful)

berzerke (319205) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244836)

A desperate for work idiot.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (3, Interesting)

Ash Vince (602485) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244398)

what stop them from firing you right at the end of the probation period and getting free work.

Usually the main problem is that the code in question needs further work. It is very rare that developers are worth the time it takes to train them for the first 6 months. When you audit code written by people on their trial period before offering them a full time post you are usually just ensuring that it does not contain any glaring great screw ups.

The project you give them will usually be very self contained but with a few external things they need to check in order to see how they deal with it. The main reason for this is that at the end of the day you have to audit it so the candidate is fresh in everyone's mind when the final decision is being made. In my experience you will want to give a potential candidate a decision very quickly after his evaluation day. If they were rubbish they probably did not get that far so you do not wan them to get another offer while you make up your mind. If you have given them a project that involved working on more than 5 or 6 files you have to go through every last line that is different and check it before the code is checked in and that can be a right pain in the arse.

Much better is giving them a dummy project that is going nowhere but builds on a simple area of your existing system. This way they have to look a the existing code and plan their approach but you get an easy audit at 5:30 when they leave.

I am also fond of giving them a project they have very little chance of completing in the time allotted in order to see how they cope with pressure. Obviously you do not count the fact they did not finish it against them but seeing how they cope with an unrealistic deadline is far more valuable than the code the produce ever could have been.

The best employee I have ever had the pleasure to work with came to do a trial day on a day which turned out to be a fallback beta release day to a client. Since the program was supposed to have been handed across to the clients test team 2 days earlier but they rushed in some last minute changes we had no choice but to release on that day. We also knew he was good from his interview so we did not want the candidate to get another offer if we mucked him about cancelling with less than a weeks notice. Then our technical lead got sick on the day of the release.

We went ahead and he found several bugs before the clients testing team. He also showed he was very professional and coped with a very stressful day very well even though he was a recent graduate with no experience on a development team. The end result was him getting dragged to the pub immediately after the day and him being accepted as part of the development team by his co-workers long before management had given him a firm offer (which of course they did, and he accepted).

While I would never aim to make a potential employees first day as much of a disaster as that I do think you can give people a basic stress test without letting them know the work they are doing is actually a bit of a dead end that does not matter as much as it could. Unfortunately jobs that pay well are quite often a little stressful at times and it pays to see how people cope with this before you hire them. This can also help the employee since someone who copes well is going to get a better starting offer than someone who can do the job well but looks like they will require more managerial input when they are in post.

Re:what about pre / in interview code samples or p (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245058)

The profit motive matters. If an employer asks me to write code to prove I can, then that is one thing. If that employer then uses the code to make millions of dollars, doesn't give me a penny for it, and won't even hire me, then I would be angry.

I'm still boycotting Netflix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33243802)

Totally sick of their popup/popunder ads.

never seen one (2, Informative)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243982)

I've never seen a netflix popup/under. perhaps you didn't install enough plugins to block ads and garbage. it's useful for more than netflix, like the million of "your computer may be infected" ads.

Let's see some examples of... (5, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243810)

"...prizes leave participants vulnerable to prosecution." I don't see any in the article.

Re:Let's see some examples of... (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243874)

Indeed. "That word you keep using, I do not think it means what you think it means."

Prosecution means a criminal complaint against you. You might be able to be named in a Civil suit, but i don't see how you can be arrested for writing code.

Re:Let's see some examples of... (4, Insightful)

godefroi (52421) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243972)

Of course, if your code pisses off the recording or music industry, then there's no functional difference...

Re:Let's see some examples of... (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244926)

I can think of at least one. Contestant writes code which is scary-good at predicting your taste in movies, music, beer, and loose women. Company takes your solution and implements it. Some fiasco occurs, a bunch of private data is compromised, and somebody gets outed as being a homosexual (or something). Pissed off person tries to sue company. They probably fail because the company has a zillion dollars. Person is still pissed, tries to go after someone else. Person goes after the original author of the code which detected that he was a homosexual. Person sues you directly.

Don't think it can happen? I've experienced it (though not in the above form, exactly).

Re:Let's see some examples of... (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245592)

This one is no biggie for me. I've been participating in so many contests, I'm sort of judgement-proof by this point. ;)

On a more serious note, Neil McAllister seems to only see the computer programming field as a zero-sum game. The computer programming that someone does for free (for whatever reason: learning, camaraderie, ego, prizes, resume-padding, or whatever) is not necessarily just lost revenue/income for the labor market of programmers.

For instance once upon a time, before the advent of Microsoft Word (and even before Wordperfect), there were many Word Processing packages available. Those initial Word Processing packages were very difficult to set up, difficult to use, and there were so many to choose from, companies needed to hire expensive Word Processing specialized consultants just to try to figure it all out.

Obviously with the advent of Wordperfect (and later Word), all those consulting gigs simply disappeared, but it doesn't mean that with the consolidation of that niche industry and the loss of those particular gigs -- that the IT consulting job market disappeared too (on the contrary). This consolidation did raise the bar for consultants (who did have to retrain themselves into learning other newer technologies), but it also raised the standard of living for the rest of us.

And if Neil McCallister wants to fight that, that's fine with me, just don't expect me to play along. I'll still keep on participating in programming contests/hackathons if I want to (the good ones anyway, I'm not saying that all programming contests are good, because you do have to read all the fine prints, speak to your friends about all the catches/if any, and ask plenty of questions, before you even begin to invest any of your time and energy).

Oh the horror! (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243854)

Those who participate invest valuable time toward winning the prize, but if they fail to meet the deadline (or to produce the leading results) their efforts could go completely unrewarded.

Boohoo? Why should you be rewarded if you can't even meet the deadlines of the contest or producing subpar results compared to others?

Re:Oh the horror! (1)

Anonymous Cowpat (788193) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244232)

because you 'win' in as far as you produce the stuff that the people putting the prize up want (if they use your stuff), but don't 'win' in as far as actually getting a prize. I don't think it's unreasonable for losing entrants to expect that their entry won't be subsequently used by the promoter - if it wasn't good enough to win the prize, how is it still good enough to use?

Think of it like an auction, I bid $1m, you bid $1.1m: we don't then each pay the sum we bid, but only you get the item. This is similar but in reverse; the buying price is $1m, and we 'bid' to see who can produce the best software for that much money; but why should the person offering to buy then get both products, and only pay the producer of the better one?
That would strike me as a fair way for these competitons to work, but people will continue to be fleeced while a sufficient number of people keep entering competitions on wholely unfair terms.

If you didn't produce the best entry, or entered late, didn't win and that was the end of it, that would be fair enough; but keeping and using entries which didn't win just seems a bit off.

Re:Oh the horror! (1)

edmicman (830206) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244916)

I'm assuming the rules on what the company gets to do with the leftover entries is presented up front in the terms and conditions? If you don't agree with those, then don't bother and enter. What's the problem again?

Learning for the sake of learning (2, Insightful)

atomicxblue (1077017) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243892)

If the runners-up are not selected, it isn't a complete loss as they had a valuable programming experience.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (2, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244040)

nothing's ever a complete loss then. i'm sure even african slaves got good physical exercise in the cotton fields.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (1)

Disgruntled Goats (1635745) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244104)

Why should someone be rewarded for not being able to meet a deadline or for submitting work that produces inferior results as others? The real world doesn't reward yot for participation alone.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244168)

That's nice, but the flip side of that is what is being discussed here: "why should someone work under such a brittle proposition?" Netflix is not obliged to reward "losers" nor is anyone suggesting they should be, so stick your red herring up your arse.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244324)

"why should someone work under such a brittle proposition?"

They shouldn't if they don't like the terms of the contest. Since when is Netflix, or anyone else, able to force you to participate in their contests?

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244474)

Yes, very good and I agree completely. This article is suggesting exactly that; that people should better consider the terms of that (or similar) contests, and that there could be better ways, in the long-run, to spend one's time. I.e., make rational decisions about who is benefiting, so that you can get reimbursed closer to your true value as opposed to following a herd and going for vague kudos.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (1)

suso (153703) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244710)

Its also stupid to play the lottery. Unless you are the winner of course.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (1)

easterberry (1826250) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245210)

it's still stupid even if you win. Getting lucky for doing something stupid doesn't make you less stupid.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33245388)

No but if you want some type of positive... People in Africa are not doing so good right now and havent been for the last several hundred years. Africans that got forced into slavery lost all of their freedoms but at least their sacrifice helped future generations of folks that are no longer live in Africa have a much better live. Ask anyone of African decent if they truly think their live would be better if there parents were still in many parts of Africa right now? We have people in many countries work for pennies a day and labor laws around the world are very sketchy. Freedom means something but a lot of those people while technically not slaves are not living great lives.

Re:Learning for the sake of learning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33245438)

And that nice Mr Hitler did offer all those Jews showers after their long sweaty train journeys.

Terms of netflix contest (5, Informative)

catbutt (469582) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243904)

I think it's only fair to point out that the terms of the netflix contest (which I participated in and got a lot out of) are such that you own everything you produce. I think you may have to licence it to netflix if you win and take the $million, but if so it is non-exclusive.

Drama (4, Insightful)

Voulnet (1630793) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243914)

Let's not make a big corporate drama over everything. Every programmer that enters a contest knows (or should know) that his work may go unrewarded AND into the hands of the contest arrangement panel. If the programmer has enough free time to make something really great for a contest, then he's already a big name or capable of making lots of money and great projects, so somebody making use of his contest entry should be but a little blip on his radar; if his contest entry was that great then he surely can go big time.

Re:Drama (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244098)

Exactly. It's the same thing with music contests (and the reason I choose not to enter music that I have authored). Anything you submit belongs to them by virtue of the contest rules.

Re:Drama (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244226)

So a contest is just like a job.

I figured as much.

Re:Drama (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244352)

If the programmer has enough free time to make something really great for a contest, then he's already a big name or capable of making lots of money and great projects, so somebody making use of his contest entry should be but a little blip on his radar; if his contest entry was that great then he surely can go big time.

Not necessarily. I can also see someone who's been cranking away code, researching algorithms, developing his own algorithms in his free time with no recognition and then one day, a contest that falls within his interests, he enters and wins. He now has a name in whatever it is and can claim that he won or even cam in second place in a World wide competition. That's something very few people can claim and I would think it would mean more than even graduating first place from a top university.

Risks are everywhere (2, Informative)

Palmsie (1550787) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243944)

These types of risks aren't inherent in devoting time merely to a contest, they're everywhere. You're at risk of unveiling your ideas at soon as you sit down for the interview and answer the question, "so why should we hire you?". You may have a great idea, spill the beans, and then not get the job only to see the company adopt your idea. Similarly, whose to say that when you implement a new idea in a company that they don't fire you and hire someone else once the system is implanted. While these are unlikely events they're similar types of risks and they're everywhere.

Re:Risks are everywhere (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244264)

That's why, if you have some ideas, and if you wanna to implement them in the given company, do it only in case you have a share, or CEO, or some other senior position in the given company. Everything else is stupid idea.

Re:Risks are everywhere (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245020)

This type of paranoid thinking is typical among people with technical skill. The reality is, ideas are a dime a dozen. Even good ideas. Implementing ideas, i.e. getting them to work and then successfully marketing them and making money with those ideas, is orders of magnitude more difficult.

It's a very rare that an idea is so brilliant, so simple, and full of so much potential, that a company could actually "steal" your idea from you and defeat you in the marketplace based on a 15 minute conversation. Seriously, you ain't that smart. No, really.

At any rate, the ideas that make the most money often don't seem to be that valuable on first glance. People aren't really listening to you that closely in the first place.

Issues with Neil's "blog" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33243946)

I'm sorry.

I don't care how valid his opinions are. "Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister" should know better than to stretch his thoughts across two pages. Especially when 85% of those pages are advertisements. I'm going to actively avoid any more of his/infoworld's content on Slashdot (or elsewhere).

Shame on you.

Wait a sec... (1)

The Living Fractal (162153) | more than 4 years ago | (#33243978)

So you're tellin me that 15 years ago when I edited my colleague's autoexec.bat file into a loop that repeated "I AM A GIANT CAWK MAGNET" endlessly... I was at risk of prosecution?! Damn, barely made it!

Re:Wait a sec... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244224)

Perhaps you'll be at risk when it finishes looping. Let's hope you did it right.

Re:Wait a sec... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244778)

Of course if you were a serious programmer you would have written a worm that would have silently infected every single computer in the world and would trigger in 10 years, letting absolutely everyone know that IS A GIANT CAWK MAGNET.

Don't forget the reward (2, Insightful)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244118)

The alternative to a competition is what, a request for tender, a bunch of responses from big corporations. At least the competition gives me as an individual a reasonable way to compete.

Likewise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244184)

Anonymous Coward warns developers of the hidden risks of submitting Slashdot comments... Social media websites allow comments for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is simply to raise awareness, interest, and participation in a given software platform or service,' anon writes. But the practice of allowing comments is not without concerns. Privacy implications, class-action lawsuits — many of the comments leave participants vulnerable to prosecution. Worse is the possibility of handing hard work over to a company without reward. 'Contests like the commenting on Slashdot are sponsored by commercial entities that stand to profit from the innovations produced by the entrants. Those who participate invest valuable time toward winning the funny or insightful mods, but if they fail to meet the deadline (or to produce the leading results) their efforts could go completely unrewarded. Depending on the terms of the contest, however, the sponsor might still be able to make use of the runners-up's innovations — which, of course, would be a whole lot cheaper than hiring professional commentators.

Fools Gold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244206)

This is nothing new. Creative companies have been doing this for years during hiring or with competitions. Since big business decided to screw me in the ass I refuse to use anything resembling a store card which is just another exercise in the shop making free money from me, and never take part in any marketing surveys of any form. If someone wants to know what I know they can stop lying and/or pay me consultancy rates.

It's called a "tournament theory" in economics 101 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244216)

Read it up.

You can be a devleoper and not know that? (3, Interesting)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244218)

Obviously if you enter a competition and don't win you spend effort entering for no reward. I wouldn't think it would be possible too drool let alone develop software without knowing that.

That the prize runner benefits from non-winning entries (if the terms and conditions are as such, and you know them before you enter) is also obvious. That's part of the reason for running one, you might award your million dollar prize for the best piece of crap in a field of garbage and would have been better of hiring programmers (ignoring the promotion beneifits of a competition). Or you might get more and better software than you could have got via hiring for the same cost.

Attending a job interview, writing a cover letter, tweaking the CV to highlight relevant experience, etc, those all require effort or time - and yet they don't have to offer me the job (or offer me the pay/benefits I want). Oh noes... there's risk...

This is news? (2, Funny)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244288)

No, this is Fark. The 'risks' they mentioned are obvious and belong to almost all contests.

Re:This is news? (2, Funny)

ADRA (37398) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244612)

You answered faster than I did! I mean DUH, that's how these contests work. That is why companies release them, and that is why there will always be a niche software market for them. If anything, it really tells us that there is an over supply of talent just wasting away in the market if they all have time to join these contests and get recognition. I don't really know how big this market is, but I can't imagine that the rewards are much above table scraps when you calculate time invested.

The nutshell version (1)

davev2.0 (1873518) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244340)

Read the conditions and rules of the contest to see if you are giving the contest holders your code regardless of whether you win or not.

I see what you did there... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33244346)

The more people afraid to enter the contest, the more likely each entrant is to win. You're just trying to narrow the competition.

Clever girl.

The risks of a total lack of foresight (1)

Spatial (1235392) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244580)

Duh!

the contest I run (1)

drew30319 (828970) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244850)

My non-profit has run a contest for the past three years. Maybe I've not been doing things the "right" way but it's only after an entry has actually won a prize that the developer assigns any rights to my organization. If they don't win then I get nothing. If they do win they always have the option of not assigning the rights (and concomitantly not receiving a cash prize!).

I'm not sure why somebody would willingly assign away their rights just for a chance to win and frankly I question the value of what a non-winning developer is receiving in exchange for the rights assignment. A "chance" doesn't seem like it would be adequate consideration.

So, it's like any other day in the real world? (1)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244880)

Wow, those risky contests sound like just another at work, whether for yourself, or your employer. Either one could fail, and receive nothing.

Maybe McAllister forgot about the whole "dot com" "nEW eCONOMY" (stylized for Web 2.0 chicness) market crashing.

Sued (1)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 4 years ago | (#33244910)

Two comments:

1. You're vulnerable to being sued simply for looking at someone cross-eyed. Anecdotes notwithstanding, you're not particularly more vulnerable just because you entered a contest.

2. Using your invention without paying you is an unreasonable fear. They may not offer you the 50% stake in the company that you think your invention deserves, but unless you're antisocial, in some other way unreasonable or too disinterested to introduce yourself to the managers of the relevant team, the fact that they want to employ your invention within their product is generally a good enough reason to offer you employment. If you can come up with an execute one good idea, you can do it again. If you can do it twice you can do it 10 times. And if you can keep coming up with an executing good ideas then you're worth far more as an employee than your single contest idea was alone.

... or the contest never culminates. (1)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245040)

Just because a contest is held doesn't mean it will complete.

The last IOCCC contest results have been highly anticipated for years now [slashdot.org] .

its contract work both sides lose (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33245284)

this is why the us govt created the sbir program. back in the day when the govt contracted a software developer(s) they choose the best and most capable of performing the task. however once it was done so was the support and further advancement. essentially they soon had unsupportable outdated pieces of software that were useless. worse is that they spent millions if not billions on training and incorporating this now useless piece of technology into their work force. to me its just a setup for shoddy software, look at ms, i bet if they could increased their employee retention they would start making alot better software, as its created by a few people not hundreds of new heads and managers throwing in their 2 cents and different coding styles every 2 years.

not to mention its just scary to think instead of being a developer with some job security, i just have to be some freelancer looking for a 2 week position that i may or may not be compensated for. i had a netflix prize group at my university, and they got me, a professor and 3 other students doing highly skilled work for them, at the total cost of $0.00.

In a capitalist country... (1)

Msdose (867833) | more than 4 years ago | (#33245546)

you would be able to list on the stock market, raise capital to hire programmers etc., produce a product, distribute it and get rich competing equally with everyone else. But in the real world of the communist religion of political correctness, you have the same right as the rich to give a lawyer a quarter million dollars to get permission to do these things. So the corporations don't have to compete with you, can steal from you and enslave you because your government legislated it that way.
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