Are Competitions To Hire Coders A Good Idea?

Are Competitions To Hire Coders A Good Idea?

Crowdsourcing marketplace is extending the idea of contests — where individual workers pitch ideas and hirers choose the best submission — from its design categories to every tyoe of work it offers through the site. It’s understandable that a model which has proved successful in one area is being extended to others, but I’m not sure how well this will work when it comes to development projects.

The mechanics of a contest for the hirer are simple: you describe your project and then set a budget for the winning entrant. The minimum rate is $30; there’s no absolute maximum, and Freelancer notes that the higher the budget, the better the level of entry you can expect to receive.

Obviously, no-one is going to submit completed code in the first stage, but I can still sense potential issues. A logo has to be relatively unique, but a contest entrant could potentially reuse the same submissions multiple times. An unscrupulous entrant could also steal open source code but then not acknowledge it, creating a potential legal risk for the hirer in the future.

More broadly, the give and take necessary in any software scoping process is absent here. If the proposal isn’t sufficiently developed and contest entrants point that out, they’re essentially providing consultancy for free.

That’s my initial take. Your thoughts?


  • This is no better for coders than 99 Designs or DesignCrowd is for designers. Most of the issues you’ve described in here apply there and vice versa. Work should be treated as work.

    Enough with the contests already. It’s demeaning.

  • As a long time freelancer (using I can state first hand that the whole idea of a contest is simple exploitation. The quality of final work that comes from is of a very low standard already and raising the budget doesn’t increase the standards, just the cost. Throwing a contest into the mix drags the standard down even further, there is something morally wrong with having 3000 hard working freelancers put time and effort into a project that only one (if any) will be paid for.

    I have since quit the site for these very reasons (and the huge hidden fee’s!) .
    I now use , I had my folio of work vetted by them before being able to sign up so the quality of my competitors on their site actually is of a high standard and they do not allow contests of any time.

    A hint of fresh air in a very suspicious industry trend.

  • Starting a competition tells you more about the client than anything else. Generally, the client has no idea and expects the solution to be cheap. That’s not possible. And anyone that values their expertise ain’t going to enter. Thankfully the client gets the result they deserve.

  • Hi there, my name is Nikki Parker and I’m the new Regional Manager for Australia and New Zealand for

    Contests are a proven and fantastic way to get leverage on your budget on any project. They’ve also played a huge role in innovation. Charles Lindenberg, for example, would never have never been encouraged to fly across the Atlantic without the Orteig competition and $25,000 prize money. Private companies would never have developed the suborbital spaceplane and kick started millions of dollars of investment in space development without the Ansari X Prize (in fact, the whole X Prize foundation is based on the fact that you can get about 40x leverage on your money by running contests rather than contracting directly). Finally no major public buildings in the City of Sydney can be built without running a contest; last year where over 160 submissions were made from around the world to design a new library and plaza for the Green Square Town Center These are only some of the ways competitions have successfully worked in the past, and Freelancer is now rolling out a platform for the average person in the street to take advantage of this.

    There’s proven success in the model for programming. Kaggle, for example, has a business model entirely built on data scientists competing to improve products and services for some of the world’s biggest companies.

    Of course to make a competition work the budget has to be appropriately priced or no one would enter. To correct one point in the article the maximum budget for competitions is actually unlimited! Whilst it a budget of between $30 – $2000 is initially suggested, you can actually enter any value you like. used it to do a global advertising campaign with a budget of $25,000 which resulted in around 400 entries from all over the world. Take a look at what happened last year when we did this:

    Competitions are also a great way for employers to get initial concepts and designs from a range of freelancers as a prelude for hiring them full time for ongoing work.

    We are really excited about the positive impacts competitions are going to have on global crowdsourcing and we are proud to be one of the many Aussie companies leading the way in this new industry.


  • The above rhetoric from Nikki only serves to further convince businesses that they can complete huge projects with little budget, which only furthers the problem. I’d like to know how exactly this isn’t destructive for the design and development communities, not about how I can have some poorly designers build me a hover board out of spaghetti.

  • Thanks for your response Nikki but I think you are being somewhat dishonest with yourself comparing your model with the Orteig and Ansari X prizes. The reason for their prizes was really about the trying to push the boundaries of the capabilities of humanity and to help incentivise people to participate in their dreams. I don’t think you’d claim to be trying to do anything like that at all.

    Your claim that you can get 40x leverage for a spend with competitions may well be true, but the model still relies on people doing work for free and that’s where I think you do damage in that this just serves to help to diminish the perceived value of real work by human beings.

    If you were serious about this being about creating an environment set up as a prelude for hiring for longer term work, I’d guess that this part would be more central to your model (with an incentive structure built around it) rather than being perhaps a happy by-product.

    Sorry, I don’t buy it.

    For a model that actually rewards people for work (and still gives customers great value) take a look at

  • When I read the title, I thought it was a company hiring that were doing a “Fill out the form to go in the draw to win an interview with CodeSoft Inc.” sort of thing.

    But this way is somewhat akin to what some artists do on deviantART — they hold a “competition” where you have to draw their original character. The winner gets some kind of small prize, while the rest get nothing. The person holding the competition is out a few dollars or a few hours while they draw the winner a picture, but has a bunch of fan-art to call their own.

    But I suppose this is kind of like a more succinct Google — you type in what you’re after, you get results back that you can cherry pick and form new ideas off of.

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