By Edward Lando, Huntsman Program 2014
PennApps is a very big deal. It’s been called “The largest student-run hackathon in the world,” and for good reason. Over a thousand students come from as far away as Singapore just for the weekend, plus there are the world-class tech companies and VCs sponsoring the event—and keeping a headhunter’s eye on all the nerds.
But do you know what I find even more interesting about PennApps? The mix of Penn students who participate. Out of the Penn participants, we had around 300 from Engineering but also 100 from Wharton and 100 from the College. The hackathon is very friendly to non-coders: you have a whole slate of classes in the week leading into PennApps that introduce you to everything you need to be of some use on a team. This, to me, is a shining example of what Penn as a whole should move towards, in order to make us all more productive.
Our university has been both praised and criticized for its compartmentalization into four schools. Those who praise say we know what we want, go for it, and graduate with real skills. Those who criticize say that we choose a specialization too early, and maybe we’d be more creative if we could sample around more.
What PennApps does is to bring our schools together.
Now I’ll admit, at a hackathon, a team of four rock star engineers will likely win because what’s rewarded is the wow effect that comes with technical difficulty. But in the real world, what Penn and PennApps are preparing us for, a team with an engineer, a business student, and political science student, all highly skilled, has much better chances at achieving entrepreneurial success than three from only one of those categories. We need each other.
The four-school system is great. Penn students are frighteningly employable when we come out of here. What sounds even better though, and what I think we should work towards, is a four-year four-school party. If we could find a way to have the schools constantly intermingling, taking common classes (like Product Design, which is a great example of a cross-disciplinary course that works well), working on side projects together, having lunch together, and so on, I think Penn would become the number one entrepreneurial school in the country. We’re very close to that now, especially with recent additions like the Dorm Room Fund. First Round Capital has an office on our campus!
Right now, a major obstacle to this four-school nirvana is inter-school contempt and lack of communication. Events like PennApps are one way to meet and to start developing relationships across schools—making friends with people who are not all like you, but who may have complementary skills and ways of thinking.
Penn Apps is great, but I want to dream even bigger.
I imagine a campus where computer science and engineering and business students learn side by side. Where the portability of a laptop means that these students can work together on a tech business from any building on campus. Where a spray of inter-school friendships bursts into life, and entrepreneurship flourishes. We need each other, to build successful businesses and to expand our own personal horizons.
PennApps was a great weekend of inter-school collaboration, and it’s made me hungry for more.
Bio: Edward Lando is an entrepreneur, a coder, and a writer. Originally from Paris, he speaks fluent English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and some Mandarin. As a member of the Huntsman Program, he has balanced his education with many additional activities, such as teaching himself how to build websites, interning as a programmer in Silicon Valley, and creating two startup companies (so far). His company Farmocracy was a member of Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Venture Initiation Program.