This year, PennApps Hackathon is going big.
The competition is expecting over 1,000 participants — about 600 non-Penn students attending from those selected out of over 1,600 applications and over 600 Penn students. Last year, they had 500.
“This will be the first student-run hackathon this big,” said Engineering junior Nick Meyer, PennApps’s director of sponsorship.
The population undoubtedly presents a larger challenge, but PennApps has worked closely with campus facilities to accommodate it.
The Engineering Quad will host the majority of the participants and is expected to fit 1,000 people. Additionally, Van Pelt Library is sponsoring the event by opening its recently renovated sixth floor to host 200 hackers as a quieter and more detached space.
While hackers had to sleep on tables in past years, this year PennApps will use the Palestra as a dorm space for participants to sleep in. They will also open Hutchinson Gymnasium during certain times over the weekend for hackers to shower, with free towels provided.
The director of PennApps, Engineering junior Brynn Claypoole, said the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been very supportive in facility updates for more charging and WiFi capacity, in response to the power crisis during the last hackathon.
PennApps has also partnered with Alpha Phi Omega, Penn’s community service fraternity, for volunteers for food distribution, so that participants can stay in their spot and have supplies delivered to them. Students will also get free food and massages.
Other than logistics improvement, PennApps also improved their mentoring and newbie support.
Over 100 mentors — knowledgeable and experienced engineers from different companies such as Venmo — will be on call through Internet Relay Chat to provide guidance to the participants.
“For example, if I am a student trying to write an iOS app and I don’t know what to download to write it on, I can send out a message to ask somebody to help me. Then maybe a Venmo engineer who works on iOS apps will come find me,” said Claypoole. “We’ve also been building a Wiki with the resources that we think are useful — what language to use for certain apps [and] links to tutorials.”
“We are trying to emphasize the user experience — that’s such a computer scientist term, but that essentially means we want to give the people who are coming the best time they can have,” she added.
While Penn students can sign up directly to participate in the hackathon, non-Penn participants went through an application process.
“The evaluation was largely based on their experience,” said Claypoole. “We generally choose people who have competed before or people who have shown promising potentials.”
Another feature this year is international outreach. Outside of North America, five international teams from Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel are coming to the game.
“We were also expecting a team from South Africa, but they won’t be able to make it because of visa issue,” said Wharton and Engineering junior Dhruv Maheshwari, PennApp’s Internal Marketing Director.
To support such a big event, PennApps received sponsorships from technology companies, including Facebook and Google, who consider PennApps a great opportunity for both recruitment and the publicity of their platforms.
“I can’t even remember how [many] internships happened through PennApps,” said Claypoole. “For some tech companies, they have apps or platforms that they want people to build on, and that’s why they sponsor us.”
Maheshwari hopes to open this up to bring everyone, not just hackers, to the final demo round in Irvine Auditorium on Sunday.
“I remember reading an article that says going to a hackathon is like going to a gym,” he said. “You see all these people who are way more intense and hardcore than you are, but once you talk to a mentor and get some help, you get started and build your skills as you go.”
Due to changes throughout the process of organizing the competition, there will be five international teams, not seven. In addition, there will be 100 mentors, not 50.
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