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Events / Hackathons / History / PennApps / Philadelphia Neighborhoods

PennApps: how the University of Pennsylvania hackathon group started

The twice-annual weekend coding event has already built a reputation for being an early leader among other similar events organized by undergraduates.

Boris Treskunov, a Penn sophomore, puts the finishing touches on his project in the final hours of the PennApps hackathon on Sept. 18. (Photo by Philly)
The following is a report done in partnership with Temple University's Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple's Department of Journalism.

The Dining Philosophers, a student computer science group at the University of Pennsylvania in its third year of existence, has become known for its hackathons.
The group’s flagship is the PennApps hackathon, which kicked off in 2009, was followed up in fall 2010 and this past spring, and celebrate this weekend its latest and largest yet.
The group’s signature competition attracts students from Penn and other local universities to build a piece of software or hardware in 48 hours for a grand prize. The field of participants has become larger with each successive event, welcoming some 180 students this weekend, but the purpose of them has remained the same: to give students an opportunity to learn and build on their skills.
That mission will push forward what the group will become.

PennApps judges and students react to demonstrations of student projects at the hackathon this past weekend on Penn’s engineering quad.

The hackathon series was first organized Dining Philosopher members like Alexey Komissarouk, a senior computer science major from Israel.
Over the years, the hackathons have produced some interesting creations. One year, it was SEASprint, a mobile printing app for Penn engineering students. The following year, it was SEPTANow, a real-time map that tracked SEPTA regional rail trains and, this year, it was a microwave that played YouTube videos.
“That’s the kind of things we see at a hackathon, the kind of ideas we can execute really quickly or we can put together that makes people’s lives better, more interesting or more fun in some way,” Komissarouk said. “A hackathon is an event where everyone says, ‘I’m going to spend these 48 hours hacking and see what kind of cool thing I can build.'”
Below watch a video to hear more about PennApps and the hackathon movement
[vimeo 29337044 w=420 h=236]
It’s also created opportunities for the sponsors, the names attached to the event are big, such as Google, Microsoft and Twitter. Sponsors have been attracted to the hackathons because it brings out the best in students while they are all in one place, which makes recruiting for internships and jobs easier, Komissarouk said.
“The problem with normal recruiting is that it kind of sucks, especially for computer science, but I imagine for other professions as well, where you have the resume and the interview, fundamentally you’re checking to see if someone is able to interview and that’s kind of a good proxy for whether they can do the job, but it’s not a great one,” Komissarouk said. “The nice thing about hackathons is that it’s pretty close to a working environment.”

Dave Sharples, a Penn sophomore, works on his hackathon project, “Beer Snob” which helps users select a beer to drink from a database.

The Dining Philosophers group is continuing to add more programming to help students get acquainted or get better at their computer science skills. Some examples of this have included hosting high school programming competitions and offering crash courses in code in the weeks leading up to the hackathons.
“It’s just been exciting over the past couple of years seeing how the Philly tech scene has just exploded,” Komissarouk said. “It’s just been growing and growing like crazy and it’s just really exciting to be part of it.”

Companies: University of Pennsylvania

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