Coders around country gather for PennApps hackathon


The 48-hour hackathon will host free food, video games, Quizzo and ice skating




Lights from laptop screens will light up the Engineering Quad all day and night this weekend.

Between Jan. 18 and 20, students from almost 40 universities around the country and Canada and Zurich will be gathering in the Towne Building for PennApps, a student-run 48-hour hackathon held every semester.

Organizers of PennApps are especially excited about the large number of participants this year. More than 500 hackers are expected to attend. The hackathon will conclude with a demo session in Irvine Auditorium on Sunday.

“This is a hard claim to substantiate, but I would venture to say we’re probably the most global hackathon ever,” Wharton and Engineering Junior Pulak Mittal, a PennApps organizer, said.

Since October last year, the organizers have worked to reach out to prospective applicants from different universities, securing sponsorships, coordinating travel plans and organizing a judging panel. When it came to deciding on the event’s location, however, the team of organizers chose Towne Building.

“Based on the success of the event last semester held at Ware College House, the Engineering dean personally reached out to us and said, ‘We want you back at the engineering building,” organizer and Wharton and Engineering junior Joseph Zhong said.

The organizing committee also hopes to attract students who may not have experience in computer programming or hacking and include them in the experience.

As a build-up to the actual hackathon, the committee organized a series of tech talks held by companies like Facebook throughout the week to introduce students of varying levels of experience to computer programming.

In addition, Mittal encourages all students to attend the Sunday demo session, when the 20 finalist teams will present their hacks for over $20,000 in prizes.

Throughout the 48-hour hackathon this year, there will be free food, video games, Quizzo and ice-skating events for participants who wish to take a break from hacking and mingle with fellow hackers.

In addition to a valuable hacking experience, the organizers also want it to be a fun and social one. Mittal said that last year, there was an impromptu Nerf Gun battle where “everyone had a fully loaded Nerf Gun and just ran at each other.”

Past participants really enjoy what PennApps has to offer.

“I love hackathons and the experience of being around brilliant people while building something I’m passionate about in a conducive environment, University of Pittsburgh sophomore Zainul Shah said in an email. “PennApps has all of this and more, which makes for an absolutely unforgettable weekend.”

Others have strategies for this year based on past experience.

“The best strategy is to stay away from the caffeine,” Engineering senior Andrew Braunstein said.

“Our strategy is to have a number of possible project ideas, with the option to pivot to a feasible fall-back idea,” fourth-time participant and Engineering senior Nick McGill said.

Advising incoming participants, Wharton junior Alex Rattray said to be careful not to take on too ambitious of a challenge. “[It’s important to] have fun, work on something very bite-sized that still does something cool and useful.”

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