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PennApps hackathon delivers big results

The seventh PennApps -- held January 18 through January 20 -- was the largest student-organized hackathon to date worldwide. Over 450 students from universities across the United States, Switzerland, Canada and Germany competed for cash prizes during the 40-hour app building session. On the final afternoon, Irvine Auditorium at 34th and Spruce Streets was packed, as the top twenty teams presented demos to students and national talent scouts.

"Team after team, for twenty straight teams, just killed it," says Pulak Mittal, a PennApps organizer and Penn junior studying computer science and business. "One of our goals as organizers is to put Penn on the map as a top ten technology school. The feedback and the experience of everyone at [the hackathon] indicate that that’s actually happening."

Amongst international contenders, Nop Jiarathanakul, a Penn graduate student in computer graphics engineering who worked solo during the hackathon, placed third for his project Web Tube. The hack is a lightning-speed web browser with an old-school TV monitor graphic interface.

Representatives from many of this year’s sponsors -- which included Microsoft, Yahoo, Venmo, Dropbox, Ebay, Facebook, First Round Capital, Kayak, The New York Times, Twillo, AppNexus, RedHat and Tumblr -- awarded their own prizes to Challenge teams. Winners from Penn were WebTube, Social Development and Urban Sustainability, Uncloseted, Enligne, OnShift, Skynet Command, and Beets.

Mittal says this semester’s PennApps broke the "mobile or web dichotomy" inherent to software hacks -- many teams produced hardware aimed at enhancing everyday objects including backpacks and bikes.

With several listings on Hacker League each week, hackathons have become a phenomenon. As Mittal points out, some hacks even go on to become startups--Firefly,Snapsite, and PayTango came from past PennApps. Traditional computer science education is valuable, he believes, but so is building.

"You see all these other ways technology is changing education," he says. "But I think education in the technology space might be changing dramatically as [hackatons] become something people go to consistently. It will be interesting to see what hackathons contribute in terms of people going into the industry. I’m glad to see PennApps at the forefront."

Source: Pulak Mittal, PennApps
Writer: Dana Henry
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