Amit Jotwani | Front End Developer, Developer Evangelist
September 29, 2011

Spirit of a Hackathon and PennApps 2011


There's something about college life. You want to do something exciting and you have relatively little fear of failure/criticism or similar apprehensions that keep us from doing what we know we should. You just dive in and figure it out. For collegiate developers for instance, I feel Hackathons, fit just the bill for that kind of spirit.

What is Spirit of a Hackathon a.k.a What to take away from a Hackathon

Hackathons are interesting. You'd think that people come to these for the prizes. In reality though, whether you win a prize or not is not all that important. What's important though is that you get to learn something new at a blitzkrieg speed. You learn to soak the pressure. You learn the importance of "Shipping" knowing fully well that your product is not perfect. You learn that constraints are good. You learn that when you can't push the deadline, you need to scale back your scope. You meet some really awesome hackers and have loads of fun coding the night away as part of a team. You learn the importance of communication within the team. The best of all, you learn all this at a breakneck speed!

PennApps 2011 - UPenn, Philadelphia

The PennApps Data hackathon - a 48-hour hackathon where university students came together to build awesome things, was one such display of student spirit and enthusiasm. These guys gave it all. Coding away for close to 48 hours. Taking turns to get couple hours of sleep each night. You could see it. They really wanted to build something awesome and didn't shy away from doing as much as they physically could in the time available. But most importantly they enjoyed every minute of it. And that's the real spirit of a hackathon.

The organizers (@pulakm, @alexeymk, @ayanonagon & team) did a fantastic job of keeping the enthusiasm and energy alive. Raffle draw prizes on the hour through the night for example was a great idea to keep up the enthusiasm and party going.

The hackathon began on Friday evening with API pitches. I did quick talk on the importance of API documentation and how Mashery's I/O docs can help them speed up the process of integrating an API into their hack over the weekend. Demo'd it with an example of Klout's API. It was quite amazing the amount of people who were aware of Mashery and it's services. Needless to say the devs loved the simplicity of I/O Docs. In fact, a few API providers approached me later for help integrating I/O Docs into their API documentation.

The Winners

Over 43 apps were presented from a total of around 200 participants. No mean achievement that. Lots of apps were built around UPenn- from making campus dining choices easy to choosing what courses you want to take based on course difficulty and faculty ratings, which obviously reflects that they really wanted to solve a problem they face in their student life.


  • Grand Prize: UWave - The boys decided to hack a microwave. UWave plays popular YouTube videos of the same duration as your food's cook time and then texts you when your food is done. Pretty awesome eh!
  • Second Prize: Class Grapher
  • Third Prize: PennMeet - Lets students join their club/list-serv by scanning a QR Code associated with their club or through Bump.


Complete list of Winners here

Winners of the coveted Mashery Beer bottle opener Pen Drive

  1. Let's do Stuff - A mobile app that gives food and movie recommendations based on the likes you have in common with friends and then uses Rotten Tomatoes API to pull movie information, reviews and ratings. Pretty cool.
  2. TrendTV - A realtime Twitter monitor to identify hot trends on the Internet in realtime. Includes data from New York Times using their Articles API.

My personal favorite and winner of Honorable Mention award - Commit Logs From Last Night by Abe Stanway. It searches for swearing in github commit logs and gives you a view into the psychic of a developer. Quite funny.

To sum it up, I had an absolute blast representing Mashery at PennApps. Got a chance to hang out with some awesome folks. It was a pleasure and would love to see more such Ivy League university hackathons in the near future.