Made In Express Shenanigans: MS Relents
Microsoft has granted two additional "grand prizes" to other "Made in Express" finalists. As you may recall, I declared "shenanigans" at the original winner, which was a team project that had been in development for years. An uproar slowly developed and after some reluctance (including a letter from MS Legal, which naturally communicated "We admit no error. If you sue us, we will crush you.") Microsoft has shelled out another couple \$10K prizes, which is certainly the best outcome.
There but for the grace of God go I. Contests that evaluate software with unpaid judges always involve some amount of shenanigans. There is an incredible disparity between the amount of time given to judging a product that took hundreds...thousands...tens of thousands of hours to develop. With the Jolt Awards, we once gave a Jolt to a Visual Studio release that was still in beta on December 31 and gave a "Hall of Fame" award to a product that had never won previously. A declaration of shenanigans would have been just. A long-standing joke we used to make getting off the stage was "No one stood up and cried 'how dare you?' Another success!"
So I'm certainly a stone-throwing glass-house-owner. At the Jolts, Rosalyn Lum's work over the past several years has vastly improved the process and kept shenanigans to a minimum. I still hate certain aspects of the process (particularly, that companies have to pay an entrance fee to be considered) and every year there are finalists and winners that make me want to tear my hair out, but I think, on balance, the benefits of contests that strive to objectively evaluate software development efforts and publicly acknowledge and reward excellent programmers outweighthe shenanigans.