It's important to never take anything called a "hackathon" too seriously, but when a million bucks is on the line—the self-hyped "single biggest prize in history"—allegations of foul play really sting. Participants in this year's Salesforce.com sponsored coding competition are furious, because the winner is a total sham.
The rules of the Dreamforce 2013 hackathon were clear: team entries (at $100 per member) had to be a mobile app developed after October 25th, created solely for the purposes of the competition. So it's strange that the team behind "Upshot," which nabbed the $1 million check, was showing off its prize-winning app as early as October 9th. It had a huge headstart. One tipster emailed us saying Upshot had actually been worked on for over a year before the contest, as opposed to the rest, who'd worked on their entries for about a week, and had to work within the constraints of the contest. That's supposed to be the point—you know, the challenging part.
Weird! Also weird: Thom Kim, co-creator of the million dollar app, was very recently employed by Salesforce, which handpicked the five finalists:
Thomas Kim, CTO & Founder, UPSHOT
Formerly an engineer at Salesforce for 9 years. Lead engineer on Salesforce Analytics. Tech lead for Custom Report Types and many other reporting features. Currently CTO of UPSHOT. We are using NLP and Machine Learning to create a radically simplified way to query and explore your data.
Someone who worked high-up at the company for almost a decade was not only permitted to compete in the company's in-house contest, but permitted to dodge the rules, and won the grand prize. Where's your meritocracy now?
Of course, there has never been and will never be a meritocracy, particularly when it comes to winning a million dollars from a software corporation. So as much as it might shock the sensibilities of the silicon-naive, the following makes total sense: two Harvard graduates were given a million dollars by a multi-billion dollar company where one of them used to work, after cheating. Hackathons are often self-serving, too: it's big publicity for Salesforce, generates a faux-cool buzz factor within the community, and provides a dead-simple, lazy way of scouting talent. As one Hacker News commenter put it, "they acquire the project and the ex-employee is back at Salesforce again. Perfectly plausible deniability, and the money stays in the company!"
Perfect: except Salesforce should've remembered that nerds are so adept at fucking each other over, they can usually tell when it's being done to them.
The company hasn't replied to questions about the outcome of the hackathon.