PennApps, the world’s original student-run hackathon, just turned 17. We hosted PennApps XVII January 19-21st , and have seen a lot in these past years. Since 2010, PennApps has grown from a little more than a dozen teams programming in small rooms at Penn Engineering to hacking in the massive Wells Fargo Center. We innovated through the Great Blizzard of 2016 (which locked down the entire eastern seaboard!) and hosted around 1200 students from around the world this past January. What an amazing 8 years it has been!
Why I Joined the PennApps Team
I remember my first PennApps. It was a week or two into first semester freshman year, and I barely knew anyone. Students I met at Quaker Days a few months earlier and I decided to forget about our impending CIS 160 problem set and toss our hats into the ring. Although none of us had much application development experience at that point, we decided to build a facial recognition password manager. Some of my best friendships to this day were forged at 3am on that Sunday morning, over Red Bull and code that was held together more by prayers than logic.
PennApps provided the “push the envelope” atmosphere that prompted me to join the organizing team. Nowhere else can you find well over a thousand of the best and brightest high school and college students from across the world together in one place. For an amazing 72 hours we forget about the daily drudgery and dive into cool projects. I knew I wanted to be part of the group making this happen.
Making PennApps XVII Happen
Fast forward two years, and I’m in the middle of PennApps XVII – heading from the workshop on Neural Networks to the fire pits set up outside Penn Engineering. After spending all day putting out fires – from 1000 missing wristbands to driving a U-Haul truck through Center City to replenish our giant snack fort – it was nice to just stand by this one and enjoy a s’more or two.
Watching the flames with a few hackers, we talked about what they were working on this PennApps. They were building a Dapp (decentralized app) on the Ethereum Blockchain to make it easier and cheaper for academics to publish and peer review papers.
They were having trouble with distribution on the IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) network. I later found out they won Best Blockchain Hack and Most Promising Hack, so they must have figured it out!
PennApps XVII had 1200 participants and 22 workshops on topics from smart cities to Intro to iOS to 3D printing and laser cutting consultation. Our 50-strong organizing team did an amazing job holding it together. But, PennApps would not have been possible without our amazing sponsors (including the M&T program!), incredible volunteers, and the support of Penn Engineering: Engineering Operations Service, Computing and Educational Technology Service, and Moore Business Office were integral to our success.
Having the opportunity to organize PennApps has been one of the best parts of my experience at Penn. It has also been one of the “M&T-iest”. Other than in MGMT 100, I’ve never learned so much about teamwork and leadership. Getting a chance to negotiate sponsorship deals with CEOs helped with soft skills, and contributing to our tech stack gave me my first taste of shipping production-ready software. But most of all, I wouldn’t have been able to navigate the craziness that is college without this amazing group of friends working together to push the envelope of technology.
P.S. If you’re interested in joining the PennApps family, look out for applications soon!
Director Emeritus | PennApps
Yash Shirsath is a computer science major concentrating in management of entrepreneurship. He is a member of the Class of 2019 and plans to pursue a masters in robotics and eventually a career in venture capitalism and entrepreneurship. His favorite part of Penn and the M&T program is the diversity of educational opportunities provided. Of these opportunities, he said: “Nowhere else can you combine classes from four undergraduate and twelve graduate schools to learn what you want. Even if you decide to go in one direction, i.e. a solely engineering or a more business-focused role, the other skills you learn set you apart and give you better opportunities in both the short and long run.”