'Hacktivism' continues after PennApps
PennHacks, Hack the Change are smaller competitions and offer alternatives to PennApps
September 15, 2013, 6:55 pm · Updated September 15, 2013, 7:55 pm·
PennApps is over, but the hacking isn’t.
This weekend saw the continuation of hacking with PennHacks, a hardware hackathon. Two weeks from now, the hacking will continue at Hack the Change, a social impact hackathon, which is set for September 27 to 28.
With PennApps crowned as the largest student-run hackathon in the nation, Penn is increasing opportunities for undergraduate tech innovation. But PennApps is not the only example of student-led hackathons on campus.
The other two, PennHacks and Hack the Change, are both relatively new hackathons without the level of popularity and attention that PennApps receives.
PennHacks’ turnout in particular was lower than expected. While 140 students signed up for the event, only about 53 actually participated, and of those, only seven had a finished product to demo.
Jeffrey Shih, PennHacks organizer and an Engineering senior, said that the low participation rate was due to the fact that “some people are a bit tired from doing PennApps last weekend” and therefore decided not to show up.
Avinash Repaka, a master’s student studying electrical engineering and a PennHacks participant, believed that “The reason why fewer are participating [compared to PennApps] is because software can be done by other disciplines,” whereas he believed hardware required a more intensive engineering background.
Shih pointed out that though there were fewer PennHacks participants, those who did participate received opportunities to “run with just whatever they want to build,” since PennHacks provided a huge variety of hardware for free, such as Kinect motion sensing technology.
Additionally, though it is a smaller competition, major companies like Google sponsor PennHacks. Startup incubators and venture capital funds like NextFab and Dorm Room Fund were also present to provide support and prizes.
Shih also cited students who have found success through PennHacks, such as Aadithya Prakash, whose hack last year led to an internship — and eventual job offer — from a Swedish tech company.
In contrast, Hack the Change’s focus is not on creating a startup or impressing sponsor companies, according to organizer Jordan Landis, an Engineering senior. Hosted by Penn Society for International Development, the goal is for hackers to use technology to solve problems posed by non-governmental organizations, such as the Botswana-UPenn Partnership.
Landis gives one example of a problem statement as “creating an app that distributes useful information to women who are pregnant and connects them with professional health care.”
Hack the Change will ask hackers at the University of Botswana to team up with hackers from Penn to jointly solve these problems. “It’ll give a unique dynamic to the team and give some really awesome ideas,” Landis said of the partnership.