Codefests: bigger prizes = better solutions?

Rewards are fun and easy to give out but do they really motivate coders to write better software? 

The biggest hackathon prize money so far was $1m which was awarded to a team of 2 at a event. It was later disputed because they were found to have worked on their app for a year beforehand. The judging process of a successful codefest in Johannesburg requires teams to declare what code they bring into the event. This results in more substantial solutions being produced but ensures fair process on judging was built during the event. [paragraph 1 of 5]

This event run by FNB awarded tablets, leisure events, “ebucks” and even free Microsoft 365 licenses. Participants voted for each other’s apps and the top six teams from this process presented to a judging panel which included the bank’s CEO Jacques Celliers and local tech journalist Arthur Goldstuck. The prizes ensured a well attended event and healthy competition but it’s unlikely that even twice the awards would have doubled the quality of the solutions. [2/5]

Programmers are knowledge workers whose motivation also depends on the fulfillment they get from what they do, ie the intrinsic rewards of their job. This includes what type of work they do, who they work with and the satisfaction of what they produce. Studies have shown that extrinsic rewards such as prizes can motivate improved output only up to a certain level but beyond that there are more complex factors. [3/5]

Prizes will attract developers to a codefest, then they expect all the basics to be in place for a well run event (read here to find out how). Beyond that, they need to feel stretched by seriously challenging ideas and have the chance to work on these together with a critical mass of top skills. There is immense satisfaction for knowledge workers to be around like minded, top skilled colleagues with sufficient opportunity to showcase their skills. [4/5]

If you get this right, together with a drive for business value (find out how in this article), you will have a positive outcome. Of course if you have $1m to spare then put it up for grabs and see what happens; I’ll enter your codefest! The Beatles knew that money can’t buy love – it does however seem that money can buy a coding event but a different set of factors will make it into a codefest in the true sense of the word. [5/5]

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