PennApps codes connections between students, skills


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Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Like HackRU, PennApps is a student-run collegiate hackathon aimed at helping fellow students work on their problem-solving skills as well as network with companies.


Hackathon events provide exciting and rewarding educational experiences that promote new talent and cutting-edge ideas. PennApps delivers on the promise, while also boasting the prestige of being the first student-run hackathon.

Since 2009, PennApps, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, has been held every semester in the spring and fall. The 13th competition will be held this year from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24.

More than 1,000 students from the U.S. and other countries like Switzerland, Canada, England and Singapore will gather in Philadelphia for the spring edition of the event, according to their website.

“A big thing for us is making sure that the students are not only making great apps and having an enjoyable experience, but also taking this as a learning opportunity,” said Rajan Patel, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore and member of the PennApps outreach committee.

PennApps had a large turnout last year, so the event was hosted at the Wells Fargo Arena, he said. They are proud of the fact that they are not only the oldest, but also one of the largest collegiate hackathons to date.

In order remain a top collegiate hackathon, the organizers decided to introduce new features to the program.

“A lot of students don’t have the background knowledge to complete their projects in a two day time frame,” Patel said. “We wanted to find a way to provide these students with even more help, so we developed the Hacker Guru system that we assign to teams with inexperienced coders.”

When students apply for the hackathon, they have the option of applying as individuals or as a teams, he said. The application for the Hacker Guru system involves a separate application. Applicants to this system will be screened for programming skill.

“Through our revamped application process, applicants could choose to apply as 'Hacker Gurus,'” Patel said in an email. “These gurus will then be matched to teams of relatively new and inexperienced hackers to join their team for the duration of the hackathon.”

Like previous events, PennApps XIII will be held on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

“(Hosting it on campus) is going to limit the number of students participating, but it’s going to create a more intimate and communal feel for the program,” Patel said.

The event is not only a place to build code, but also an opportunity to network, he said. Throughout the duration of the event, students will be interacting with people from other schools, recruiters and organizers.

“This time around (we have) Google, Bloomberg, Capital One, Blackstone, Comcast and eBay,” said Samantha Caby, a member of the PennApps outreach committee, in an email.

Tahrima Tasmin, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said PennApps XII gave her the opportunity to meet cool people, make great connections and even land her summer internship through the recruiters present.

“You can talk with them and leave your (contact information), and they will contact you later if they are interested,” she said. “You still have to go through the interview process, but it’s a great place to network. It’s not a job fair, but you can potentially get a job there.”

Everyone there was engaging and cooperative, she said. If someone had a problem, they could simply walk over to the next table and ask the people there for assistance.

“I carpooled to the event with a bunch of Rutgers people, people that I didn’t know," she said. "Afterwards, I became really good friends with a lot of them."

The event also provided opportunities for participants to reach out to one another, she said. In addition to a Twitter feed, the event provides a live chat to promote cooperation.

“(It’s all about) collaboration between different minds and schools, and being able to create products that can make a real difference in the world,” Patel said. “Our main goal is to not only create a ‘think tank’ atmosphere for students, but also to promote the idea that we are doing this for world change."


Francesca Falzon

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