Coders ready for Penn Engineering’s inaugural HACKfest

In a hackathon, teams of coders compete against each other and the clock, working night and day to produce the best possible application under a tight deadline. For the first time, the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s two signature hackathons—PennApps and PennHacks—are being brought together under one banner: HACKfest 2013. 

Founded four years ago, PennApps is the largest student-run hackathon in the world. The upcoming event has attracted more than 1,600 applicants from the top computer science programs around the globe. Of the 1,000 people selected to compete, roughly 650 will be from this national and international pool, with the remaining coming from Penn.

On Friday, Sept. 6, after an opening address from Mayor Michael Nutter, teams will have until Sunday morning to conceive, code, and polish a brand-new web or mobile application.

Once the time limit is up, the teams will demonstrate their programs at a public expo held in The Palestra from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sept. 8. Judges will select 20 teams to face off with demos in a live event in Irvine Auditorium from 2 to 5 p.m., culminating in an awards ceremony that will distribute at least $25,000 in prizes. The top team will take home $10,000.

Newer to the scene is PennHacks, which will run its second-ever event during the weekend of Sept 13.

“Instead of 48 hours of coding, PennHacks is 48 hours of coding, soldering, wiring, sensing, actuating, and creating,” says co-founder Joe Trovato, an engineering senior. “Requiring hackers to be innovative with both hardware and software is an additional challenge, but it often produces things that the computer scientists and electrical engineers would never think of on their own.”

PennHacks will provide the 100 contestants, all Penn students, with the hardware they need to complete and test their projects. The top team will win $1,500 and get to keep their creation.

Both contests have backing from major technology and venture capital companies, providing technical insights, networking opportunities, and some of the prizes. But at the heart of the immersive experience of a hackathon is the idea that the most instructive experience with coding can take place outside the walls of a classroom.

“We see hackathons like this as a way of developing foundational skills,” says engineering junior Brynn Claypoole, director of PennApps. “We want the next generation of great coders to get inspired and keep building.”