Virtual Reality Tools at HPC Support Team’s Weekly Meeting

During HPC’s weekly Friday meeting, Director of HPC Asya Shklyar transformed the entire meeting room into an interactive project space for HPC Support members. “Let’s move the chairs to make room,” Asya said, “that way we can use the board to document all the programs associated with different fields of study in VR.” The students began moving chairs and collaboratively working together to get the space to function. Soon, the meeting room became its own VR work space.

Configuring Alienware laptops
Students interacting with Oculus Go, a wireless VR headset.

Students were able to actively learn how to connect all the equipment properly and how to begin engaging with every individual program. Asya then requested the students to organize the programs by their specific fields of study, ranging from Biology to Economics to Linguistics.  The idea was to curate various VR experiences  in order to prepare for demonstration to faculty and students. Throughout the process, students learned how to troubleshoot individual issues with the equipment while also engaging with the programs that are associated with various fields of study.

Engaging with the VR experience.

Through the interaction, students had their questions answered about how to link the VR equipment properly and how to run the programs. In the end, it was a highly engaging Friday that saw the participation of multiple students and the engagement from those who’ve never used VR before (like me).

Ekeke setting up HTC Vive.
Asya overseeing the process.

Amin Nash from HPC Support Team Interviews Joey Hazlett from ITS

Amin Nash from HPC Support Team Interviews Joey Hazlett from ITS

Joey Hazlett, photo accessed from Pomona ITS website

Joey Hazlett is a Systems Programming Specialist for Pomona College’s ITS department. Specifically, Joey works as a systems administrator and describes his primary roles is to automate processes so there won’t be a need to do it manually again. Joey also works closely with Sakai and Consortium-wide student information system. In HPC, Joey helps with development and automation of programs to make them easier to access.


If anyone is interested in working with Joey on projects, he’d be happy to do so. He’ll assist with their projects and give guidance as well!

Amin: What are your favorite things about programming?

Joey: I’ve been doing it since high school. My favorite thing is that I could tell the computer to do something and it will do exactly what I tell it to do. Computers will always do what you tell it to do. I enjoy the whole process of it all, though. Being able to think of something to finish and then being able to watch the evolution of accomplishing it is satisfying. If something doesn’t work, I like stopping and asking, “Hey, this didn’t work, what do I gotta do to fix it?”

Amin: What are some moments that gave you satisfaction about your projects?

Joey: A good example is today! I was on a phone with our vendor earlier because we are in the process of moving our disaster recovery servers to Azure. I had to test for the replications to go from “running” to actually “moving” and we were successful. The process was to figure out how to move around or through firewalls that were preventing various connections, so it wasn’t primarily programming involved, but we had to use a puppet to add a firewall rule. That way, next time the puppet agent is ran, it would distribute the configuration across all servers. The most satisfactory part is being able to see all the parts working together and not having too many issues with figuring out a problem.

Amin: Why do you participate in HPC meetings and projects?

Joey: I found it interesting to have access to so much power in use of cores, CPU’s, and parallel processing. Also, things running on Linux are convenient to me because it’s my background and I’m mostly exclusive on Linux now. Having the ability to manage the Linux boxes is exciting and something I’m very proficient in. In the future, I hope help maintain the HPC clusters and support them to run so people can use them to their fullest capacity.

Amin: What are some projects you have worked on with HPC?

Joey: Currently, I’m working with Zintan to use Raspberry Pis to project job usages on monitors inside the ITS department. I’ve also moved the daily challenges from the Slack channel to a repository so they’ll all be easier to access.

Amin: Are there any projects you’d like to get involved with more?

Joey: The cluster project with Raspberry Pi would be cool. I do a lot of fun stuff with Raspberry Pis at home so I’d like to get involved with Raspberry Pis at a professional level. I have a stack of them at home that helps run the small things in my house. I also have a Pine 64 that is essentially my media server at home but is powerful enough to transcode videos and such. I also would like to get involved with 3D printing, but since it’s not directly involving my job, it’s hard to get into the lab to start working on it.

Amin: How have you found your experience as a developer benefits HPC?

Joey: Specifically for moving the daily challenges from Slack to GitHub, I at first started doing things manually, but I realized there’s got to be a better way to finish a project. Since I knew how to automate things to do specific tasks easier, I built a basic application that allowed me to just type in subjects into boxes that makes it easier to access. It makes things easier to remember what came in before and I essentially made it so that the program would increment by one. I then used a mark-down language on GitHub, found some basic documentation, created a template, and that all ended up becoming the structure to run the application. For me, the key to programming is being able to automate something repetitive so we don’t have to do too much work. The project was at first to take a big blob of text and make it accessible, but now it runs very smoothly.

Amin: What would be some technical advice to those starting their projects?

Joey: I would say get comfortable with a programming language that would support scaling, because if you program something that needs to be scaled and won’t scale on your program, you’ll have to code it again. It’s better to code it right the first time than re-writing it from scratch. It is also important to do good research and gather requirements before you start programming. I agree that learning is doing, but you also have to have a basic knowledge of what you’re doing before you do it.

Amin: Have there been any challenges with HPC?

Joey: I would say the biggest challenge, for me, would be the security changes being implemented. Having to process the firewall rules and routing tends to cause headaches in making things work. Something that used to take half an hour now takes days and constant coordination with different teams. Sometimes having to rely on teams will slow you down. It’s good and bad; you can rely on other people to get the job done, but it’s bad because you can’t do it quickly.

Amin: Any favorite memories?

Joey: Not at the moment, but I’m sure there’ll be some to come!

Amin: Were there any other disciplines you learned about that you haven’t experienced before?

Joey: There’s actually been a lot of things I didn’t know about, and going to HPC meetings opened my eyes and made me research more. One of them is Docker and the other is Kubernetes. Docker was cool and actually reminded me very much of chroot in the Linux world where you use the systems based resources but you’re isolated from the main system, kind of like being in a sandbox.



Ekeka Abazie, New to HPC Support Team, Interviews Kevin Ayala, an HPC Support Veteran

Ekeka Abazie, New to HPC Support Team, Interviews Kevin Ayala, an HPC Support Veteran

Ekeka, left. Kevin, right.

Ekeka: What are your goals as a member of HPC?

Kevin: I want to learn more about computers in general and more about new technology that is coming out.

Ekeka: What brought you to join HPC?

Kevin: A total accident. I was there to get my computer fixed, but they had a talk about video games. Ms. Shklyar was talking about 3D printing which interested me a lot. When I told her [that I was interested], she encouraged me to apply.

Ekeka: What is the coolest thing you’ve done in HPC so far?

Kevn: Raspberry Pi, because it’s a tiny computer that I’m homing from my own computer which looks a lot like what hackers do.

Ekeka: How does working in HPC differ from that of other jobs?

Kevin: A lot of learning; it really encourages you to do what you want to do. It doesn’t require experience but allows you to take on projects and learn as you go.

Ekeka: What recommendations do you have for new recruits to HPC?

Kevin: Don’t be afraid to try out new projects. Everyone is learning on the go and you can, too.

Ekeka: What were some initial problems you encountered when you joined HPC?

Kevin: Vocabulary; and since I joined halfway in the semester, I felt like I needed to catch up, because everyone seemed to know so much more.

Ekeka: What is your planned major or area of expertise?

Kevin: Computer science and I will try and double major in Cognitive Science.

Ekeka: How has HPC advanced your understanding of computer science?

Kevin: A lot; I learned about computer networking, a lot of technical terms, and biggest of all, I learned about computer concepts [and how to use them]. That little foundation allows you to get more information easily.

Ekeka: Describe your most interesting interaction with Ms. Shklyar?

Kevin: We were working on the 3D printer one day, and she said to switch it out with a laser engraver. When we asked her how to do it, she said that she didn’t know and handed me and my friend a manual.

Ekeka: What are some changes that you’ve noticed in HPC since you first started?

Kevin: A lot more people, and a deeper focus on cloud services and High Performance Computing. When I first joined, it started off more focused on the specific technologies that were in the lab.


Evan Von Oehsen Interviews Max Rose To Learn About His Experience with HPC Support

Evan Von Oehsen Interviews Max Rose To Learn About His Experience with HPC Support

As a new hire in HPC Support, there is a lot to learn and catch up on. To help me gain a better understanding of HPC, and give me some insight into his experience, I interviewed a team member –  Max Rose (PO ‘22).

Evan: What was your experience/interest with technology prior to working with HPC?

Max: Coming into HPC I had taken a class on Python, a few courses on EDX, and I was in the Science Math and Technology magnet at my high school–I had lots of tech in my background.

Evan: Why did you join HPC?

 Max: I actually couldn’t get my computer to work, and Daziah [Turner], who was a student worker in ITS, helped me fix my PC. She ended up telling me all about HPC, and I applied the next day.

Evan: How long have you been a part of HPC and how has your experience been?

Max: I’ve been here since around early September. It’s a really cool job; there have been some fascinating projects coming through here for a lot of different departments. We’ve been doing stuff with geology, economics, even linguistics that I never would normally get to see, because I personally am very math and computer science oriented, and it’s really cool.

Evan: What projects have you worked on so far/plan on working on?

Max: I got to help set up a new server called the Epyc server. I basically shadowed, so that’s a good example of being able to participate in things you had no prior knowledge of, as I’d never set up a server before. I just watched, and although I didn’t have any experience with it going in, I came out of it having learned a lot. I watched some materials from an Intel conference on extreme performance. I went through the slides and made notes. Currently, I’m working with a modeling software called COMSOL with the geology department. The professor I’m working with is named Eric Grosfils, (Grosfils recently received a $450,000 grant from NASA). I met with him and we talked about how he can use HPC going forward. A lot of times, you get into a spot where you approach a professor and start talking about their project, and eventually you have to wait for them in order to move forward with it.

Evan: What are your favorite types of projects to work on and why?

Max: I like working with projects that are technical. Rather than writing, I like doing things that involve specifically technology, whether that be involving programming or numbers or software, rather than filming or writing. The good thing about our group is that we have people that like to do that, and aren’t as interested in the number side of things. It’s good that we have both because, if we only had people like me, we’d have nobody that would like to document. And if we only had people that liked to do things like filming projects, there would be nobody to do the more technical research projects.

Evan: Have you involved any knowledge gained in Pomona classes in your HPC projects?

Max: In my intro to Python class, while it wasn’t quite up to par with the skills we need for some of the projects, it definitely gave me a foundation for the basics such as arrays, lists, etc. A lot of the things we do here in HPC can be confusing if you don’t know the basics.

Evan: As a part of HPC, have you learned anything about other disciplines through any projects you’ve worked on?

Max: When working on research projects for different programs we do sometimes learn about them in the process, but it’s more so about making their software compile and run and produce results. If I’m working on a project with geology models, for example, it’s not necessarily my job to create a geology model–I’ll be focusing on making the software work well. Even if I took that geology class, I still would need to be focusing more on the technology aspect and making everything work smoothly for the research. That said, understanding the content never hurts–having that common understanding when you’re discussing a project can only be beneficial!

Evan: What are some of the challenges of working with HPC?

Max: Really the great thing about working at HPC is that you can shape it to work with you as much as necessary–if I’m going to have a busy week, I’ll take less jobs, but when I have more free time, I’m able to take on more projects and get them done. So thus far, I haven’t run into any challenges besides those that come with what we’re specifically working on in our projects.

Evan: What is your favorite part of working with HPC?

Max: Working at HPC allows me to utilize technologies that I wouldn’t normally have access to–like the computing power we have in there, we have a couple of servers which cost way more money than any student like myself could afford, and we have access to a lot of fancy VR equipment and VR laptops where I couldn’t spend $800 on a headset but I get to play with one in the lab. The same goes with other things like 360 cameras and 3D printers. It’s a plethora of really cool hardware that we’re very fortunate to have access to.

Evan: What has been your biggest takeaway from working at HPC so far?

Max: I’ve learned a lot technically–I’ve learned a lot more software and I’ve developed a much broader understanding of computers as a whole. Computer science can be really nitty-gritty and you might not know how to get big projects done after even a few years of classes. But with this job, I’ve learned to see the broader picture, how to actually do something you need to do rather than just know how to write code and not know how to deploy it. More abstractly, I’ve learned that technology jobs and computer science don’t necessarily go hand in hand; I think there’s a difference between information technology and computer science. You could take four years of computer science and have no idea what HPC is all about, or you could learn a lot about HPC and have no idea how to code. But I’ve learned how to connect that and realize I need to know all of these things if I want to be successful.