The Rise of PennApps

By Pulak Mittal (W’14/Eng’14: Management & Technology Program)

I vaguely remember hearing about PennApps as an incoming freshman. As a computer science major, I got an email or two about it, but didn’t really have a grasp of what it was, or even what “building apps” really entailed. Fall 2010 was the first iteration of the PennApps hackathon where 10 teams presented their hacks, and the 40 participants fit very comfortably into the Weiss Tech House.

PennApps 2010:  We all fit inside Weiss Tech House

I participated in PennApps the following spring, when the participation rose to about 100 Penn students.  We still met in the Weiss Tech House, although we spilled out into the hallways and some of the rooms in the School of Engineering nearby. Since then, I have joined the organizing team, and we have seen interest in the hackathon explode. Last weekend, 320 participants from 29 schools as far away as the Rochester Institute of Technology, McGill University, Duke University, and the University of Michigan, came to Penn to hack. Beyond the broad range of visiting schools in attendance, we also had awesome interest from inside Penn as well. There were a number of freshmen who came out (and won awards!) with no prior “hacking” experience; I also saw quite a few non-Computer Science majors picking up the basics of coding and hacking for the first time.

PennApps Fall 2012: We filled up the entire ground floor of McClelland Hall, with overflow space necessary for a number of participants

This, in my eyes, is one of the most awesome places where PennApps creates value: not only does it provide a venue for experienced coders to build awesome hacks, but it’s a fantastic opportunity for learning as well. As the world grows increasingly digitalized, the ability to build software apps becomes more and more invaluable. People with an interest in technology are realizing how useful it really is to have some technical expertise, and the number of Whartonite Seeks Code Monkey emails I’ve received in the past year is actually less than ever before. Seeing friends of mine in Wharton who don’t know how to code develop and sharpen their front-end design skills at PennApps was a very gratifying experience.

For budding entrepreneurs at Penn, PennApps is a great chance to get your feet wet and build out a (very) MVP in a single weekend. PennApps participants Patrick Leahy and Justin Meltzer teamed up with Dan Shipper to launch Firefly last week, which started off as Phone Spot at PennApps last spring. Tess Rinearson and Drew Inglis are continuing work on, which started as Grassroutes at PennApps last spring and got 250k hits during the SOPA blackout in January.

The Penn entrepreneurial scene is making big moves, and I’m excited that PennApps is a part of that. I’m eager to see PennApps expand, and to see more startups come out of the plethora of awesome apps that are produced every semester. And the hackathon is just a first step – PennApps is going to grow beyond just an event every semester. Stay tuned!


Pulak Mittal

Pulak Mittal is a junior in the M&T program studying computer science and marketing. He has done internships at Facebook and Piazza, and is currently a TA for CIS 121. At Penn, he is lead organizer of PennApps and president of the Dining Philosophers.  Follow Pulak on Twitter.