Parul Singh, master’s candidate at Northeastern University, has been interning with Red Hat for the past few months and is specifically working on the ChRIS Research Integration System platform. She recently shared her story with us, with the hopes of inspiring more students to take the jump and contribute to open source projects.
Thank you for sitting down with me. Let’s start by hearing your background and how you came to work at Red Hat—and specifically on ChRIS.
I’m currently a master’s student getting my degree in Computer Science at Northeastern University. I started working with Red Hat as an intern and on the ChRIS project at the beginning of January 2018. While I’ve always been interested in Cloud Computing, I’ve previously only worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS) platforms, and, I’ve never been involved with building a cloud system from the ground up. I gained internship experience in research and development when I was working in New York City, building out Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) for big data and machine learning jobs. This was using AWS components and all that users had to do was write the code. The jobs were then orchestrated, and we were in charge of building the app that actually analyzed the data.
When I moved to Boston for my master’s program, I got involved with the Mass Open Cloud (MOC) as a research assistant, and from there, involved with ChRIS. While I wasn’t sure if I’d be a good fit for this project at first, there are many similarities with my prior work, especially that ChRIS users do not need to know anything about the orchestration, as we write the plug-ins and provide all the data that is being analyzed.
Can you speak a bit about your motivation for getting involved with ChRIS, beyond it being a fantastic resume builder?
The most important and distinctive aspect of ChRIS is that it makes an impact on real people in their real life. Everytime I work on the project, I know that there are people who will see tangible benefits from the work I’m doing—and who will benefit from ChRIS as a whole.
My biggest motivation is making the medical industry software more clinically relevant by making the infrastructure scalable and by reducing the time it takes to analyze medical images. Sometimes you work on projects where you don’t know how what you are building will improve the world, but with ChRIS, you’re making a real difference in people’s lives.
What has been the most gratifying part of working on ChRIS?
Apart from feeling like you’re truly making a difference in the world, this project has also offered me a lot by way of individual development. I’m able to work on so many evolving technologies that are being used by many of the top companies—Kubernetes and OpenShift, for example. These are the widely used technologies for the job. This project gives me the opportunity to hone in on these skills while making a difference.
What does a typical day working on the project look like?
While there is no “typical day” in the life of ChRIS, we usually have a team meeting every morning to discuss new updates, if there are any plans for the project we should be aware of, and what we’re each planning to work on that day. We also use this standing meeting as a place to talk about any challenges: if we’re blocked on a particular line or have any questions for the group. This meeting allows our team access to the right resources so we get guidance when we need it. Often, we’ll leave the meeting with some new individual tasks.
The group working on ChRIS is very diverse—there are about 12 of us working on the platform, and we all come from different backgrounds, ranging from a few full-time Red Hatters to interns to even some high schools students who were with us for the summer!
What advice do you have for new coders starting out on their open source coding journeys?
The biggest piece of advice I have is to be patient and to have faith in yourself. Open source projects can be much more overwhelming than conventional projects, given the sheer number of people who have access to see and review your work. With many open source projects, it depends on how motivated you are as an individual learner, as people working on the same projects as you can live anywhere and any place and at first, access to help can be difficult. I’d say this can be a major turnoff for some people.
But, if you commit to open source projects—and especially ChRIS—you’ll learn a lot about yourself as a coder, learner, and leader. You’ll become more self-reliant and independent. You’ll likely get a lot of feedback at first, so you have the opportunity to learn how to handle feedback in a positive, productive way. My advice on this is to understand that feedback is an opportunity for you to grow as a contributor, and if you stay patient and trust yourself, you will succeed as an open source coder.
Why are you dedicated to technology and what are some of your broader career goals?
I feel very empowered as an engineer to solve any problem I want to with the resources and tools I have. While it may not be very obvious, being a coder gives you the power to be able to change the world in any way you want. All you have to do is get proficient in a coding language and work toward how you will solve a particular issue. I believe anybody has the power to do this, if they have the know-how, and my goal is to use my power as a coder for change—just like with the ChRIS project.
Any last words of advice?
If you are an open source coder, you should get involved with a project you care about, like the ChRIS project. Not only will you be working on a noble and life-changing cause, you’ll also gain experience working with leaders in the open source and medical realm. In fact, I wish every student had the opportunity to get involved with the ChRIS project, or another project you find important.
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