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Facebook's Hackathons Get a Rethink

Unknown Lamer posted about a year and a half ago | from the sleep-deprivation-optional dept.

Facebook 49

itwbennett writes "They'll still be all-night coding sessions, but starting with this week's 'Project Mayhem' event, there are a few notable changes. First, they're longer — starting at 11 a.m. Thursday and continuing until 2 p.m. Friday. And coding through the night is optional. 'It's like, "let's take this day off to do this, and then if I need to get more done, we can hang out and finish at night,"' said Facebook engineering manager Pedram Keyani, who organizes the hackathons."

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49 comments

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In other news... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637091)

Facebook now gets nothing done, and has fallen the way of Myspace.

Butfart is the facebortk (1, Troll)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637111)

Hal is the CREEPER!!!!!

... and then spend (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637119)

the next 2 weeks fixing the bugs caused by being sleep-deprived. Seriously what is the point of this? Are people still mentally in high school and think it's super kewl to stay up all night?

hackathon? (5, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637165)

Is this a "hackathon" or a let's work our employees ragged just before the weekend because we know they have no lives outside of our company? The hackathon is a time-honored tradition amongst hobbyists. When done by professionals, it's not cool, it's exploitative.

Re:hackathon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637201)

Just another attempt by "the powers that be" to reframe language for their own use.

Re:hackathon? (3, Insightful)

multiben (1916126) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637257)

Could not agree more. Where I work this type of thing comes around from time to time. "Show us how passionate you are about programming! Stay all night! We'll shout you pizzas and coffees!" Sure, that sounds worth it. When you start giving me random increases in pay, I'll start doing random amounts of unpaid overtime.

Re:hackathon? (4, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637363)

When you start giving me random increases in pay, I'll start doing random amounts of unpaid overtime.

Make sure the ranges for the call to random() are acceptable, otherwise you're going to get screwed by the law of averages. And if there's one thing you can count on managers to mess with... it's statistics. :)

Re:hackathon? (3, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637407)

Easy situation to deal with.....by going home earlier in the day, randomly. I agree with you, unfortunately, it is necessary to be vigilant to make sure your employers (and anyone else for that matter) don't rip you off.

Re:hackathon? (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637351)

The really weird thing is that they bothered to call it Project Mayhem, when it's well-known that Facebook's codebase is a gigantic messy hairball of bewildering PHP.

Re:hackathon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637371)

Project *May*hem. It's a pun on the month name. They have monthly hackathons.

Re:hackathon? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year and a half ago | (#43639203)

so it's scheduled, but the project isn't? isn't that more like "lets' work extra, monthly" day.. company hackathons dont' make sense that way, the only sensible time to have them would be when the project is in a state that it could benefit from it.

Re:hackathon? (2)

CodeBuster (516420) | about a year and a half ago | (#43638311)

when it's well-known that Facebook's codebase is a gigantic messy hairball of bewildering PHP.

If true, that's not surprising given the culture of hackathons and all nighters. As a developer who takes pride in quality work, the whole hackathon phenomenon really bugs me because it idolizes practices which have long been known to produce shitty and unmaintainable code. As others have said, hackathons are fine for hobbyists and those who're just having fun, but this is no way for those who call themselves professionals to be writing code that has even the slightest chance of being taken into production.

Re:hackathon? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#43638365)

I'm... too tired and/or lazy right now to dig up a proper citation, but it surfaced over a year ago during a protracted conversation about Facebook's recurring strategy of resetting privacy controls every few months to milk their data-mining clients for the sudden boost in available information. The complexity of their codebase was cited an excuse for these changes being accidental.

But, y'know, "9.3 million lines of PHP and their own interpreter" is damning enough for most people.

Re:hackathon? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637365)

Hackathons at Facebook are purely optional. Also, everyone's actually encouraged to not hack on something related to their day-time job. So no, it's not exploitative. Just because your day-time job is related to your hobby, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy that hobby as a professional anymore.

Re:hackathon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637541)

Is it optional optional, or actually optional? I've worked at non-for-profits where volunteering at fundraising events was considered optional, but everyone knew you needed to go if you wanted to get promoted. I'd bet these are similar.

Re:hackathon? (4, Informative)

bieber (998013) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637703)

Truly optional. It's very informal, employees kind of organize themselves into teams centered around ideas they've come up with: what you're working on for the hackathon won't generally have anything to do with your day-to-day work, so if your manager is at all concerned with your hackathon project it will likely only be a matter of personal curiosity, not to evaluate your performance. And it's pretty much a given that you're not going to be in any shape to get a significant amount of work done the next day (the all-nighters have typically been Thursday nights), so it's not like you're being pressed to squeeze in an extra day of work, it's more like rearranging your existing working hours.

Re:hackathon? (1, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637965)

If it's actually optional, why would you join a hackathon run by your employer, when there are so many other hackathons in the Bay Area? Are you some kind of cultist whose entire life, including their off-work hours, revolves around their employer? Why not go to SuperHappyDevHouse rather than a Facebook hackathon?

Re: hackathon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43639759)

I know a couple of people who worked at Facebook. While hackathons are optional, there was pressure to participate. Non-engineers got to paint offices or work on presentations during hackathons.

Personally, I don't like the work-related hackathon. I work in the games industry, where nobody tries to pretend that non- or quasi-optional overtime is fun.

Re:hackathon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43640611)

Unless the Facebook employee retain ownership of the work they do during a hackathon, then it is still exploitative.

Re:hackathon? (1, Redundant)

websitebroke (996163) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637377)

Replying to undo accidentally modding 'redundant'. In fact, I totally agree. It sounds like a way to get people excited that they're doing something for a hip new company, not for some cynical rich guy.

what (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637173)

This article makes no sense

Coding all night is stupid. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637177)

I do it very occasionally when I am really in the groove and banging out a lot of code and I don't want to stop. Or once or twice when deadlines loomed and there was no other way (I'm a game developer). But all-nighters really wreck my productivity for 1-2 days afterward. I'll be tired and make more mistakes than usual, or just not have the mental energy to do a proper day's work. On the whole it is always A NET LOSS of productivity.

Re:Coding all night is stupid. (1)

Mr. Chow (2860963) | about a year and a half ago | (#43639665)

It's not a net loss of productivity if you do it going into the weekend....

Re:Coding all night is stupid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43647229)

Yes, it is.

hope (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637223)

I really hope they pay their employees a lot to make up for this kind of abuse.

Re:hope (2)

Trepidity (597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637235)

The great thing about only hiring from a very specific demographic (sub-30 male engineers with no families) is that they're masochists, so it doesn't take much convincing for them to put up with the abuse! It's the same kind of culture that leads people to think pulling all-nighters doing your engineering degree is a sign of hardcoreness (as opposed to just poor time management).

Re:hope (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637315)

Scientology ads and the PSAs, display them 24/7 watch 'em clear the haze.
We're lighting the path that man has sought so long.
Now the truth is out, the search is over, the mystery's gone.

We unite for human rights and restore to man all of his might.
The Way to Happiness brings the calling of peace,
helping all reduce crime, even the police.

Psychotropic drugs we make a thing of the past,
expose the fraud of the psychs and watch 'em dwindle real fast.

Re:hope (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637327)

Yes. yes they do. Although I wouldn't call it "abuse", it's just a culture where people are very enthusiastic about what they do and genuinely enjoy their work. I interviewed there and I was impressed by how upbeat everyone was. In the end I decided not to join them because I just didn't feel that excited about their product.

Re:hope (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637389)

Yes. yes they do. Although I wouldn't call it "abuse", it's just a culture where people are very enthusiastic about what they do and genuinely enjoy their work.

I understand that, and I am glad the employees enjoy it. The trap people get into right out of college is they think their current company is the best ever and they won't enjoy any other company. Employers can then take advantage of the situation by underpaying them.

That is abuse: underpaying your employees just because they enjoy their work. It's ok to enjoy your work and get paid well, too.

Re:hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637477)

Maybe I wasn't clear enough, they do pay employees well. At least, in absolute terms. It's all relative to the quality of the employee, and Facebook's are some of the best, so maybe they still are underpaid. The postive attitude I saw was pretty universal: most of the people I spoke to had been out of college a while, many had come to Facebook from other companies. Not directing this at you, but I think that the reason the idea that high profile tech firms get away with underpaying or overworking their empoyees has become so popular, is that certain people find this more palatable than the idea that these people (who tend to come from a specific demographic) have unique skills, enjoy their work, and are being rewarded for it. See this other reploy to the OP [slashdot.org] for example.

Re:hope (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637725)

It's all relative to the quality of the employee, and Facebook's are some of the best

I'm not sure that's very true. I'm sure some of them are, and it's hard to say since I can't see their code, but a lot of the design decisions I've seen come out of Facebook have seemed kind of wrong.

Re:hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637799)

Well if they are not the best, then they are definitely not being underpaid. You can see Facebook average salaries here [glassdoor.com] , e.g. average base salary $110k.

Re:hope (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637897)

That's good to hear. Let them work all night then.

Re:hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43647327)

They'll need to! At that rate their career will be over in a matter of years when they burn out. Seriously, it doesn't matter how much you love your job. The abuse that this kind of culture enables means a huge number of burn outs. A good company pays a decent wage and gives a damn about their employees health (and no, a good health insurance deal is not the same as caring about real health).

Re:hope (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year and a half ago | (#43639217)

Yes. yes they do. Although I wouldn't call it "abuse", it's just a culture where people are very enthusiastic about what they do and genuinely enjoy their work. I interviewed there and I was impressed by how upbeat everyone was. In the end I decided not to join them because I just didn't feel that excited about their product.

ehm.

the fucking hackathon is in the fucking calendar. if the employees were just randomly doing it because they want.. that's another thing. scheduling a day for doing overtime however is something very different from spontaneously wanting to work on the product some extra.

Re:hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43639883)

chill, man. How is what you said inconsistent with what I said? I said that hackathon's weren't "abuse" and were part of the corporate culture. I never said they were voluntary or spontaneous, although other posters here have indicated that they are. This whole thread is packed full of false dichotomies: either you would do something in your own time for fun, or doing it as part of work is a horrible inhumane imposition.

Re:hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43647441)

I said that hackathon's weren't "abuse" and were part of the corporate culture.

Yes, they're optional extras. Meaning that if you don't take part you can't possibly be passionate about the company or your work. This kind of crap isn't part of the calendar when it's optional. This is management asking overtime that's not even productive. It's meant to show who can be abused and who should be cut in the next round of layoffs because they know they have more worth and won't put up with this BS. If it was just for fun the company would also schedule an extra day off for recovery time.

either you would do something in your own time for fun, or doing it as part of work is a horrible inhumane imposition.

Yes. This falls into the latter. Kids right out of university often all into this trap. "no, no, no, we're not asking you to work overtime, we're asking you to be passionate!". Good employers know the dangers of burn out and help they employees avoid it. This is exactly the opposite of that.

Re:hope (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43637709)

I really hope they pay their employees a lot to make up for this kind of abuse.

It's a shame you don't enjoy your job enough to want to do it.

Re:hope (4, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43637731)

It's a shame you don't enjoy your job enough to want to do it.

I do. I also want to get paid fairly for it.

Enjoying my job is no excuse for letting my employer abuse me.

Re:hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43638089)

Enjoying my job is no excuse for letting my employer abuse me.

True, which is why I quit $EMPLOYER. The funny part of the story is that the most fun I had doing work for $EMPLOYER was at a hackathon. It felt like the good old days, even if only for one night.

Re:hope (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about a year and a half ago | (#43639727)

Also enjoyment is not absolute. I really like my job. It's great. That doesn't mean I prefer to be at work than say at home drinking a nice beer or posting on Slashdot.

Re:hope (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43642419)

Very true. I like programming, but I'd rather do my own. I have projects that I like to work on that no one would ever pay me to do.

spon6e (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43638201)

On baby...don't Are a few 6ood antibacterial soap. BSD had become

SWIFT Interview questions on (-1)

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Facebook itself needs a rethink. (3, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#43639525)

Facebook has some big problems:

Social just isn't that big a business. Facebook made only $53 million in profit last year, on $5 billion in revenue. (Way down due to some dumb acquisitions. They did better in 2011.) Despite all the noise it makes, Facebook is small compared to Dell or Google or Microsoft or HP or Oracle. VMware and Adobe have revenue roughly comparable to Facebook.

Facebook hasn't had that revenue for long, either. Social networks have a short lifespan. AOL, Geocities, Orkut, Friendster, Myspace... the list of once-big social networks is long. It's hard to make money in "social". Blast out too many ads and users leave. That's what killed Myspace.

Facebook is desperately trying to develop something that will make them cool again, or some way to get people to swallow more ads. All-night hacking sessions probably won't help. They've been acquiring other companies, but that may not help either. Buying Instagram is where their 2012 profits went. Instagram is cool, but not profitable. This year, they bought Hot Studio, a San Francisco design house whose mantra is "build brand loyalty first and ask for payment later". That's so late-1990s first dot-com boom.

Re:Facebook itself needs a rethink. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43639833)

I think I know what's going to kill FB. It's not another web site, it's some work underway to turn social media from an ad-supported service provider web site into a peer-to-peer protocol. For a very rough approximation, imagine your FB feed coming from something like a torrent. Your friends' computers would be mirroring your posts, etc. You get the idea.

There will come a time when we regard using web sites for communication as a relic, the way we think of AOL or MySpace today. FB will be "that site we used to use that had all the fucking spammers on it".

Re:Facebook itself needs a rethink. (1)

freudigst (1778168) | about a year and a half ago | (#43663465)

Who's going to seed all that crap? Leave it on the FB server...

Re:Facebook itself needs a rethink. (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43642385)

That's why they went public when they did, they felt it was a good time to maximize profit from investors.
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