Developing on Staxmanade

Windows 8 Hackathon: Good for participants. Bad for Microsoft.

Last weekend I participated in a Windows 8 hackathon. In 24 hours of coding I had an app created and submitted to the App Store for certification.

24 hours to create an app?

I'll share details about the app I created in a future post. For now, I have since removed my app from the review process in the Developer Portal.
Before I get into why I (temporarily) removed my app. I would like to first talk about a number of the real benefits I saw with the hackathon.
  • I work from home as a remote employee. Don't worry I'm not at Yahoo. The event was a fun change of pace; working in a room of developers hacking away on their own ideas. You could feel the energy and this energy is probably why it was possible to burn the midnight oil hacking on my own app.
  • This contest forced me to work all the way through submitting an app to the store which I believe to be more of a mental hurdle than an actual one. This process was definitely made easier with Microsoft on hand to answer questions and get over some of the non-obvious steps in the process.
  • Working in a room with the others proved to be useful when you got stuck on something. Shouting out 'I'm stuck on problem X’ and have someone there to point you in the right direction and unblock you is great.
  • The short timeframe forces you to focus on your Minimum Viable Product. Work on what is necessary and avoid getting side tracked.
  • Related to the focus above I really got into the zone hacking away at my app; this certainly reminded me of why I love this profession.
  • Meet developers in the area.
  • Learn interesting problem domains and how others tackle them in their apps.

Now, why am I really writing this post?

I believe Microsoft is shooting themselves in the foot with how they are running these hackathons.
I can’t say I speak for how the hackathons are being run, but my experience showed me the following.
With Microsoft’s own employees running these events and not giving a lick to the quality of the applications being submitted they are setting themselves up for failure.
I can see from a marketing perspective that having a large number of apps in the store will help them drive more people to their platform. That’s crap. There are far too many reasons Microsoft should be driving QUALITY into the store and not quantity.
Let’s list a few reasons this is going to backfire:
  • NOBODY wants to use crappy apps developed in 24 hours. NOBODY!
  • There are very few apps that can be written in 24 hours without maintaining some sort of a quality bar.
  • The certification process will get clogged causing the testers to care less about finding quality issues and pounding through “numbers”.
  • We'll have a huge collection of crappy apps where the sheer number of apps will make finding a good quality app nearly impossible.

How can they make this better?

Something interesting about this is generally when you talk about Pros/Cons to something, you have to give-up something to fix a Con and that sometimes means taking away from the Pros.
However, I feel like we can keep ALL of the pros I listed above while also reducing the amount of Cons if only Microsoft incentivized their employees to drive quality into the store.
  • Do – push people to get an app done and help them through the app store
  • Do – provide guidance around how to build-in quality
  • Do – provide some metrics that will help the app succeed in the end (design, best practices, possibly even saying, “That’s been done”)
  • Do – recommend they cancel submitting their application if it hasn’t met the developers quality metric. (This isn’t going to save the app store, but would help to reduce the number of write-once-let-die-in-the-store apps)
  • Don't – offer a prize for "the most apps submitted" within 24 hours.
I’ve developed on the Microsoft platform for a long time and really hope there is a place for the Microsoft App Store in the future, but with their push for a large number of apps they’re not setting themselves up for an easy road back in the game.