The Penn Labs Constitution
Switch branches/tags
Nothing to show
Fetching latest commit…
Cannot retrieve the latest commit at this time.
Failed to load latest commit information.

Penn Labs Constitution

Created: August 14, 2011

Last modified: February 12, 2015 (see changelog)


Objective: To improve the state of student-run technology and enable student innovation.

Scope: To create, maintain and distribute student-led projects that serve the needs of a vast population within the undergraduate community. Hire undergraduate developers to work part-time to achieve the stated objective.

Cost Breakdown


Penn Labs pays students up to $16 per hour to work on projects part-time during the school year. At roughly 120 hours/semester (10 hours/week over 12 weeks), this comes to $1,920 per developer per semester. These rates are in 2015 USD adjusted every three years for inflation by the Penn Labs Board.

The rate is consistent with rates at top research positions and the rates of computer science teaching assistants at Penn. Penn Labs may also, at its discretion, hire developers on a contract basis to fulfill specific needs not covered by the full time developers.


Penn Labs will also provision ~$1,000 for miscellaneous operational costs, including server hosting costs, domain costs, and the purchase of any proprietary technology that increases the speed of development and any tasks (such as design) contracted beyond the core Penn Labs team. Any under-utilization of miscellaneous funds will be distributed into additional developer hours above.

Funding Sources

Penn Labs receives a budget from the Undergraduate Assembly to be matched by the Provost’s office for the school year. Penn Labs conducts payroll through the Provost’s office.

Though Penn Labs will partner with a variety of student groups on campus, funding for Penn Labs will remain independent of projects, leaving the group to work on the highest-impact products for student life, without regard to a particular student group’s ability to raise funding. Penn Labs cannot maintain a client-provider relationship with any student group. Proposals like payment per-project or conditional payment based on project completion are against the non-profit nature of the work and not considered potential funding sources.

Penn Labs is open to receive donations beyond its base funding on an ad-hoc basis without preconditions or expectations of a resulting service.


The two primary tasks of Penn Labs during a given semester are to start new projects or conduct substantial improvements on existing projects, and to continue ongoing maintenance or adoption of existing projects.

Ongoing Maintenance

The ongoing maintenance of projects consists of the upkeep of completed projects to assure continued success and adoption of widely-used projects from the wider community for sustainability over the long term.

Project Generation Process

In addition to project maintenance, Penn Labs will work with stakeholders to generate and execute on a new project idea on a regular and ongoing basis. The project generation process consists of three steps: idea generation, due diligence resulting in a proposal, and board ratification.

Idea Generation

In order to ensure high-impact projects that meet student needs, ideas will be solicited from the entire Penn student body through an open, online forum like Google Moderator. The top ideas are chosen for due diligence. (Depending on the outcome of the due diligence period, Labs may move down the project list until a feasible project is found.)

Due Diligence

Ideas are examined and explored by the Penn Labs Team (membership described below) and prepared for presentation to the Penn Labs Board (membership described below) in a proposal consisting of the vision, including the different features, and an ordered priority of each feature. The due diligence process breaks down further into two parts: product, technical, and logistical.

Product. If the project idea originates with a third party, then the directors will meet with the idea proposers to lay out the list of product features and their priority. If the idea did not originate with a group, then Labs is responsible for providing such a feature list, taking into account any relevant stakeholders.

Technical. The Penn Labs team will examine the feature list provided and determine the technical feasibility of the features. In addition, they will make a rough assessment of the potential implementation timeline and determine at a high level how they might be implemented.

Logistical. The Director(s) will identify any administrative, non-technical hurdles to undertaking the project and meet with any relevant parties to determine their feasibility. This includes, but is not limited to, the Provost’s Office, relevant UA members, ISC, and other administrators.


The board meets soon after the idea generation and due diligence process to consider the proposal, which should include the name, expected timeline, scope of the project, logistical requirements as outlined above, and the proposed student benefit of the project. Penn Labs presents the proposed project and feature schedule. The board reviews the proposal and requires a ⅘ majority for ratification, making changes or comments as needed.


Penn Labs Board

The Penn Labs Board is intended to oversee the organization. Comprised of key stakeholders and funding partners, it will meet at least 3 times every semester to receive a progress report and approve ongoing and future Penn Labs activities. Though the board will be compelled to meet as described above, voting can be done online over e-mail.

Penn Labs Board Membership

  • Two Undergraduate Assembly representatives, which will be designated as the UA Speaker and UA President by default with the option to delegate their voting rights to any Exec Board member of the UA.
  • One representative from the Provost’s Office.
  • One representative from OSA.
  • One representative from ISC.
  • Non-voting members:
    • The Undergraduate Assembly Secretary or an Online Services Coordinator from the Undergraduate Assembly if found necessary, charged with helping to set agendas, liaise with administrators, be invested in Penn Labs’ success, etc.
    • The Penn Labs Director(s) will be non-voting members of the board and present project proposal.



The Penn Labs Team will be lead by one or two Directors, who set high-level direction, manage human resources, and are generally the last word in internal decision-making, including hiring and budget use.

In the case of two Directors, they will divide up work and responsibility at their discretion.

Pay. The Director position may be volunteer and unpaid, but Directors have the option to be paid for their Penn Labs work up to the rate of developers, currently $16 per hour.


  • Attend all developer meetings and oversee high-level project and technical direction.
  • Attend UA, Board, and client meetings and generally be the point of contact for outside organizations.
  • Manage developer resources.
  • Oversee hiring process.
  • Manage budget.
  • Ensure smooth operations for developers in terms of logistics, technical tools, nitty-gritty administrative stuff (e.g., source control, listservs, funding, accounting, paying people, domains, hosting, billing, etc.).


New Directors will be recommended by the outgoing Director (and continuing Director, if applicable) and approved by the Penn Labs Board.

Other Leadership Roles

The Director(s) may, at their discretion, appoint other nontechnical roles within Labs, some of which are outlined below. As of now, they are unpaid and volunteer, though that is subject to change with approval of the Board.

Hiring. The following roles will be appointed at this discretion of the Director(s), with the consultation of the Penn Labs Team and Board.

Product Evangelist

The product evangelist is responsible for the public face of Labs and community outreach. This includes marketing, website upkeep, and to some extent client relations, in addition to advocating for users and generating feedback on and vested interest in Labs products.

  • Raise awareness and use of Labs products through marketing an outreach initiatives.
  • Bring community feedback to team for maintenance and developments.
  • Keep website up to date.
  • Represent Labs to the press.
  • Monitor site use and traffic.

Tech Evangelist

The tech evangelist is responsible for representing Labs to the Penn (and broader) developer community, and advocating for developers within Penn Labs.


Pitch Penn Labs APIs to developers at hack events and in general.

  • Provide support or developer APIs.
  • Spearhead open-sourcing initiatives, and keep the rest of the team on track to open-source new projects.
  • Ensure adequate documentation and commenting for public-facing projects.
  • Work with Provost’s Office, ISC, STAB, and other external organizations to support Penn’s Open Data Initiative, i.e., creating APIs of Penn data for developer use.
  • Encourage contribution to Labs projects on campus.


A core team of student developers, who will work 10–15 hours/week at the rate described above, and will participate and contribute to documentation, code reviews, product vision and overall direction.

In addition, Penn Labs will take on newly-recruited junior developers, who will be working on a trial, training basis until made full developers at the discretion of the Director(s).

Hiring. Developers will be hired on a regular basis through an open application process. Final hiring decisions will be made by the Director(s) with the consultation of the Penn Labs Team.

Project Lead(s)

The Director(s) may, at their discretion, appoint project leads for new and existing projects from among the full-time development staff. Project Leads will work in a technical leadership role for the specific project.

  • Oversee the lower-level technical direction of specific projects/products.
  • Attend client meetings and be the primary point of technical contract for a client in a given project.
  • With the Directors(s), manage developer resources witihin a specific project.
  • With the Director(s), sets deadlines and milestones for project, and prioritizes features.
  • Ensure proper project documentation, code review, and best practices.

Sustainability and Oversight

Maintaining Project Sustainability

In order to guarantee longevity of Penn Labs and to preserve the applications developed by students, several strategies will be employed by the team.

  • Documentation: Code will be written with extensive, quality comments for the ease of future developers. Additionally, an internal wiki will be created and used.
  • Hiring of Underclassmen
  • Project Progression: Projects will be explicitly passed on from senior to junior developers.

Additionally, all code written will be under ownership by the University of Pennsylvania, and not of the specific bodies or persons thereof. The noncommercial sharing of the code will be the purview of Labs unless specifically determined otherwise at the outset of the specific project. Code cannot be used sold or used for profit. It is a long-term goal that the source code to all projects should be provided under an open source license.

Project Oversight

Projects will be overseen on two levels:

Penn Labs Board

All new projects are vetted by the Penn Labs Board. Regardless of the schedule of meetings, progress reports on ongoing projects are given as well and general updates must be given (either in e-mail or in person) at the middle and end of each semester.

Other Oversight
  • All Penn Labs projects are documented at their inception and shared on request with Penn Labs Board and Advisory Team to combat overlap between student-run technologies and university center IT projects.
  • All Penn Labs Board members will be given access on request to Penn Labs’s central “bug-tracking” software.
  • Receipt of hourly time sheets will be CC’ed weekly, on request, to Penn Labs Board members by OSA, the current OSA payroll center.

Project Client

Penn Labs will be held accountable to client group in the following ways:

  • Upon agreeing to be a “partner student group,” Penn Labs and partner student group have the option of hosting a brainstorming session, optionally open to the Penn Labs Board.
  • During the brainstorming session or thereafter, Penn Labs and partner student group may agree on a set of proposed changes to the student-run technology, as well as a set timeline (semester or year). These changes are ranked in priority, just as the Penn Labs Board sets overall priorities every semester. The Penn Labs team will present the proposal to the Board for ratification. As with all proejcts, a degree of flexibility is given at the discretion of the team.
  • Director(s), or Project Lead if applicable, will maintain consistent contact with and update the client throughout the project lifetime. These may be in the form of a weekly email with details regarding each project being worked on.
  • Both Penn Labs and partner student group have the option of signing a contract of the project proposed to be reviewed by Penn Labs Board. Additional clauses to the contract can be added via addendum or separate contract between Penn Labs and partner student group.
  • Partner student group and Penn Labs relationship is at-will. At any point, either party can terminate the relationship if it does not feel the relationship is productive.
  • Student partner groups have final authority on the contents of their websites.
  • These agreements shall be subject to the UA guidelines for third party affiliations.

Ratification and Amendment Process

This document was ratified by a ⅘ majority of the Board at their upcoming meeting in Fall 2011. Any amendments to be made to this document will likewise be ratified by the Board at their next meeting point and will also require a ⅘ majority to pass.

An up-to-date version of this document must be publicly available to the student body and be provided to the Speaker of the Undergraduate Assembly.