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Five Years, Ten Rounds of Hacks

Ah, Philly. City of Brotherly Love.

I know it mostly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and culturally misappropriated cheesesteaks here in New York. But I also know it for the stunning University of Pennsylvania (or “UPenn” if you’re in with the lingo, which, come on, you totally are), a great school which will play host to its homegrown 40-hour hackathon this upcoming weekend. The hackathon is called PennApps, and holds the distinction of being the oldest college hackathon in the country — hence its commemorative special name this year, PennApps X.

A History in Awesome

According to the PennApps website, the first iteration of the hackathon took place in the Fall semester of 2009. Hosted by the Penn’s Women in Computer Science group (a fantastic UPenn initiative that “serves to create a fostering, supportive community of women at Penn in technical pursuits”), the first PennApps took place over the course of a week. The format has since tightened and conformed to the expected intense short-burst hackathon setup that we see today, but that initial hackathon set an accessible tone and laid the foundation for the community to come. As the years passed, the hackathon tried out different angles — including a focus on mobile in their Spring 2011 season and data in their Fall 2011 run. The passing years also saw PennApps gradually accumulate a strong portfolio of sponsors, including heavyweights like Microsoft and Andreessen Horowitz as well as newer tech forces like Venmo and Dropbox.

Today, PennApps is a major hackathon operation with an online presence to be admired.

Streamlined, Integrated Weekend

This weekend will see PennApps X out in full force, managing its hackers and sponsors through its sleek and helpful mini-platform (dubbed My PennApps) that will serve as an effective resource as the hackathon rolls on.

Some notes of interest:

  • The grand prize is $5000 + some sweet gadgetry that includes Dell Venue 8 Tablets, an Android Wear, Thalmic Myos, a Leap Motion, and an Oculus Rift development kit. (Sweet sweet gadgetry)
  • The hackathon boasts an extensive hardware lab that includes assorted Arduinos, Parrot Drones, Myos, Oculus Rifts + Alienware Laptops, and Leap Motions. View the full list of available hardware here.
  • Held in conjunction and partnership with PennApps is the second ever Stitchfest – billed as a “different kind of hackathon.” Stitchfest is an event organized by “,” a Philly-based online community that seeks to integrate engineering and technology into science education using e-textiles. This semester’s design challenge: New kinds of wearables that responds to our daily challenges. Check it out.
  • PennApps X will also feature a Health Hacking component. The hackathon is partnering with Penn Medicine to help med students and professionals tap into the benefits of information technology that lead to the better tackling of health and medical problems. The organizing team will be providing APIs, datasets, appropriate hardware, and dedicate lab space to those interested.
  • In the mood for some numbers? Check out this Medium post by the PennApps team, featuring a detailed breakdown of 2360 application it received from over 400 schools and universities.
  • And one more thing: it looks like PennApps X will feature an appearance by Massimo Banzi, co-founder of Arduino.
Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi. Image credit: VTP.

Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi. Image credit: VTP.

You can learn more about PennApps X at their website.

As well as their Facebook page, which features the really aesthetically wonderful promos they’ve been putting out under the #Xbits hashtag. Samples:











You can also follow them on Twitter @PennApps. Last I heard, they’re swamped with sweet swag:


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