At the beginning of every semester, Penn’s computer science club (The Dining Philosophers) organizes a massive hackathon called PennApps. A hackathon is a 24- to 48-hour period, during which teams of engineers attempt to build the coolest possible creations from scratch that they can imagine. At the end of the weekend, various judges and sponsors pick top competitors and award prizes.
For PennApps Fall 2013, I competed with Teddy G., a bioengineering M&T (proof that you don’t need to be a computer scientist to do PennApps!), and Ashu G., a CIS major. We built Juke, a text-message controlled music player with an option to require payment to queue songs, much like a traditional jukebox. The judges really enjoyed what we built and awarded us a top 20 ranking out of over 200 teams. We also won a prize from a local start-up incubator, letting us join them for further mentorship. I can definitely credit the Wharton side of the M&T degree for turning what would just have been a cool web application into something with a business model and commercial viability.
However, PennApps (and hackathons in general) are about so much more than winning prizes. For some, PennApps is a time for reunion. Indeed, I ran into many of the friends I made this summer from Silicon Valley. My manager from my summer internship at Chegg even came out, as Chegg is a PennApps sponsor.
For others, PennApps is about networking. Accordingly, I met developers and executives from many top tech companies, companies I would absolutely love to interview with.
And for some, PennApps is about the human spirit of creation. Our team didn’t go into PennApps trying to win a prize or impress people; we just wanted to create something cool that we wished existed in the world. I think that’s the right attitude to have at a hackathon. The M&T program really facilitates this sort of inventiveness, making hackathons a great environment in which M&Ts can thrive. Fittingly, tons of M&Ts do PennApps every semester. It’s an integral part of the Penn experience that I can’t recommend enough.