it’s still looking into claimsthat the developers who won its massive $US1 million hackathon contest
had broken the rules and shouldn’t have won.
But it is, so far, standing by the choice, saying that the app submitted was deemed “eligible” to win at the time it was submitted, wrote Adam Seligman, who leads Salesforce.com’s developer relations, in a blog post.
At the same time, Salesforce.com left itself an out to change its mind. Seligman said that “we are conducting a thorough review of the final entries to ensure they complied with published rules and regulations.”
The grand prize of $US1 million was the biggest ever for a hackathon, which is an event where developers gather together and work nonstop to build something new.
A team of two developers won the prize, Thom Kim and Joseph Turian, for a voice-activated app called Upshot. Kim had previously worked at Salesforce as an engineer for nine years. He had left Salesforce in January.
Developers who participated aired a long list of complaints about the contest. Sources told Business Insider that a lot of them were “furious” about the way it was conducted.
The biggest complaint was that the app that won wasn’t created as part of the Hackathon. People voicing complaints found evidence that Upshot team member Kim had publicly demonstrated the app to Salesforce.com users at a Meetup event on Oct. 8, weeks before the Hackathon contest was even announced on Oct. 25.
But that wouldn’t necessarily disqualify the app, Seligman said in the a blog post.
That’s because Salesforce.com told developers during the contest that it was OK for them to use older code in their hackathon app. The judges were supposed to ignore that older code and only look at the new features built after the contest was announced.
Another accusation was that judges didn’t even look at all the apps submitted before handing the prize to a former employee. These complaints were aired on a Salesforce.com discussion forum and in a thread on Hacker News.
Alicia Liu, part of team ” SalesRun” also wrote a long blog post about her experience at the hackathon, called “The Dirty Secret Behind the Salesforce $US1M Hackathon.” After her team submitted their app:
“I saw a bland standard rejection email … specifically stating no judging feedback will be given. … the Testflight email with our [app] wasn’t even opened. … Having spent collectively over 150 hours working on something, giving up nights and weekends, and not even have someone actually look at our app left a distinctively sour taste.”
Seligman responded to those accusations in his post, too, saying, “Every eligible app entry was reviewed at least twice.”
Liu told Business Insider:
“I don’t deny they looked at our video, though we can’t verify. But they say they had 80 judges, and there were only 149 submissions. It’s not unreasonable that for a 4-week-long hackathon that they put in the effort to actually look at some/most of the actual apps, which took considerable effort to build. And their rules specifically say the app has to be able to be run on judges’ phones.”
Others also said that some of the teams who won prize money got extra help from Salesforce.com. One participant, Melvin Tercan, wrote on Hacker News:
One of the finalist teams didn’t make the check-in time, so they extended the check-in by a few hours … You could tell it was just a dog and pony show on the second day. Some people were helped, some weren’t. Then, when you submitted, all you got was a “sorry, you’re not chosen” … Nothing telling you where you could have improved, nothing saying what your score was, no information at all. … Won’t be coming back, that’s for sure.
As Liu told Business Insider:
“I think people just want to be treated fairly. If Salesforce is going to run a dog and pony show that’s fine, but don’t make everyone follow 12(!) pages of rules and then disregard them. We’re not being sore losers, we just don’t want to be jerked around. I think this has really struck a chord with the dev community and people at large are upset and fed up with corporate “hackathons” which aren’t really hackathons at all.”
Salesforce.com declined further comment, except to point to a couple of tweets by Salesforce.com Marc Benioff where he said, “We are doing a full review of the Hackathon. We always respond to feedback, and this will be no different. It must be a legitimate victory.” He also promised, “We will address every issue raised by the community.”
We have also reached out to Thom Kim and Joseph Turian and will update if we hear back.