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PennApps, the largest collegiate hackathon in the country, returns to Penn Campus this year for its thirteenth reiteration. A new Hacker Guru mentorship program focuses on PennApps opportunity to learn. | DP File Photo

Yoda isn’t the only master guru people are talking about this winter season.

This weekend marks the 13th iteration of PennApps — the largest collegiate hackathon in the country — and with a new year, the competition is bringing in major new changes. PennApps, which takes place from Friday to Sunday, pits individual hackers and teams of up to four people in a 36-hour race against the clock to create innovative new hardware and software focusing on topics ranging from humor to health.

After relocating to Wells Fargo last year, PennApps XIII is returning to campus in order to create a more close-knit feel for the competition. As part of this emphasis on a intimate environment, PennApps is also adding other experimental changes to create a community atmosphere — its new Hacker Guru mentorship program.

Through the updated application process, hackers with high levels of experience can now sign up as Hacker Gurus — mentors to new hackers and hackers with relatively less experience. Gurus are then matched with teams that they assist throughout the duration of PennApps.

“PennApps throughout its history has always had a focus on learning ... and the Hacker Guru System is another spin on that,” said Rajan Patel, a member of the outreach committee at PennApps. “What we wanted to do was introduce even more incentive to people who have never coded before to participate in our event and apply.”

Patel himself never had any prior coding background — he didn’t even know what a hackathon was before PennApps — but he came to the competition last year to support friends. He thought experiencing the creative atmosphere was so meaningful, even as a spectator, that he decided to join the PennApps committee to help organize and spread the word on the competition.

He said that going to Penn was a major reason he was able to find out about PennApps and become involved despite his non-technical background. He believes the new Hacker Guru system will be a great way to involve people like him from outside of Penn as well.

“The committee in previous years has seen people who can’t come up with an idea or go through with an idea because they don’t have the prior knowledge to do so, and [the Hacker Guru system] gives them a way to get the knowledge that they need to make sure their idea gets out there ... It gives them an opportunity to build something they’ve always wanted to build,” Patel said.

PennApps XIII is expecting around 1,200 participants this year, hailing from 133 universities across 13 countries, in contrast to around over 2,000 participants from last year.

Despite the decrease in size, Patel believes there will be no shortage of ideas.

“Even through we don’t have as many people numerically, I think it’s going to be just as powerful. With so many people there and so many ideas floating around, we’re still going to be achieving the things that we’ve always done with PennApps, and that’s creating really great software and pieces of technology that can benefit society,” Patel said.

Patel hopes that PennApps will be able to grow in resources and support so that it can return to larger venues like Wells Fargo and still provide an intimate and shared experience for hackers even at a larger scale. The competition will conclude this Sunday with a science fair expo where members of the public can view and try out inventions.

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