PennApps – Friday/Shabbat/Sunday/Monday Day 171/172/173/174

January 25, 2013

One of my most amazing experiences at Penn thus far was marked by these four days. In case some of you were wondering why I was engaged so frequently recently, this post should help clarify it a little. As I mentioned in the previous post, PennApps is the largest student hackathon in the world, and the next two days, and the two following, marked the lead up and competition itself.

Friday I went to my usual TA training and meetings, however, additionally, I also made it to a number of ‘tech-talks’, lectures given by software engineers at various companies. I planned a little with my team and met up over the next day with many of the hackers that were visiting.

Once the hacking started the next evening, it started with a bang. The entire four building engineering quadrangle was filled with over five hundred students, with tables lining the corridors and people in every classroom. Instantly Rigel, Nikki and I were on our keyboards typing away viciously. Though we were at first a little unsure of how it would work or even what exactly we were making we pounded away nonetheless. Joining us at the table was Saajid Moyen who, unfortunately fell sick after the first ten hours. In between mad rushes for food we found the spark of an idea. And so ‘proposal.’ began to take form. Our app was designed to be used on an unguarded computer on which someone had left their facebook/twitter logged in. Our app provided an easy interface to create a fake engagement. From sending out notifications on facebook, to creating a wedding event and uploading photos, our app did it all. However, our greatest feature was the ability to what the face of the victim as they returned to their computer, through some clever use of the webcam.

Midnight came and still I coded away. Around 3AM Rigel and Nikki decided to catch some sleep, but I decide to code on. At 5AM I decided to get a little shut eye and so lay down my head on my keyboard and caught thirty minutes before bouncing back up and getting on to more code!

The next day was full of more code, and this time, visitors to our booth! People ranging from the developer evangelists (Song of TokBox and Swift of Sendgrid) to company representatives and venture capitalists. Everyone liked our idea, in particular a group of Israeli’s working for a Sear’s owned company. With renewed support we redoubled our efforts and improved our product even further, working to polish it as much as possible.

The next time and the coding was still not over, and by now we were starting to run out of time. We faced issues ranging from getting stuck with the facebook developer tools (API) to issues with our code management platform (git). It was at this point that we really relied on the support of the mentors, all the company representatives doubling as assistants who we turned to for advice in our more desperate hour of coding.

That night I caught another twenty minutes, this time in a quieter room away from the action. However, soon I was up again, working with the other two to finish off our product. At around this time a facebook rep mentioned to me that he couldn’t allow me to continue making the app publicly available as it violated facebook’s terms of service and so I forced to make it somewhat private.


We finished roughly ten minutes before the deadline for the first round of judging (for the sponsor prizes) and we even managed to style our page decently. See the finished product at

The judges from the various companies and startups loved our demo but unfortunately we were informed by all of them that we were ineligible to receive their prizes due to a lack of a ‘use case’ for our product. Ie; though it was fun and awesome, it wasn’t very practical. Despite this, the attention we received boosted our egos, our reputations and opened up a number of connections to us. In particular, I was offered a potential internship at a local firm. Most exciting.

Next up was the opportunity to demo in front of a larger crowd including official judges. Our app received wide acclaim and the loudest applause from those within our group but again, we didn’t meet the usefulness criterion in order to be passed into the next round. Regardless we left feeling content.

During the awards ceremony I feel asleep numerous times and, finally when it was over, I trudged back half dead to my room and slept a long and wonderful sleep.

© 2012-2024 Shaanan Cohney