Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My PennApps Experience

My first time at PennApps, this fall, was an experience beyond my imagination. I imagined that not much would come out of it for me due to my lack of experience with coding. I imagined that I would not even finish a product. I imagined that everyone would keep to themselves while coding. And lastly, I imagined some sleep…

            However, my experience was the complete opposite and has really shown me the beauty behind learning computer science. My friends Debbie Ly (a junior double majoring in computer science & fine arts) and Riddhi Sanwal (a sophomore in Networked & Social Systems Engineering) joined me in forming a team to compete at our first PennApps. We had all taken a year of computer science at Penn and felt in awe by getting the chance to code along experienced hackers who had come from all over the world just to compete.

            Our first day consisted of finding a place to code and sleep, eating lots of free food, and meeting our mentor, who was the one who really boosted our confidence and changed our entire mindset about this competition. During the first night, we spent the time drawing out how everything would look like and planning out features with our mentor. He spent some time teaching us how to get started and the basics of everything, even though he could have spent time with his own hacker team coding. Throughout our entire process, so many experienced mentors were so willing to help teach us things that it didn’t even feel like a competition. We were just a large family, with different skill sets, happy to help each other out. We had learned so much from these mentors and made long lasting friendships.

            As our deadline at PennApps approached, we stayed up all night eating Insomnia cookies with some mentors to decode bugs and finish the product. We finally got home at 7 AM with 2-3 hours of sleep before demo time. Arriving at the Palestra, we felt so proud and accomplished in having finished a product in time. Companies ended up loving our idea (FlipIt) of a virtual bulletin board for clubs to advertise events and we were in shock that companies were amazed by it! We didn’t even dream of ending up in the top 40/200 teams with our lack of experience.
            In the end, on top of new friends and a new product, we had a new confidence in ourselves. We had many doubts during our time here, from a lack of knowledge of certain coding concepts to some guys thinking that we were lost and not actual competitors. However, we realized that PennApps was not just a time to code, but it was a time where people come together to breathe life into ideas. It is one of the few places where one has the resources and people to teach you how to create something. It has a brought a new perspective to coding to my team, and we have a new excitement for life because of it. We hope to set an example for girls who are afraid to code or pursue computer science. It is a bumpy road, but we are all here to help one another and there’s a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel! 

Questions for Bianca?  contact her at awe@seas. upenn.edu 

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