An English Grad Student’s First Semester Experience in HPC Staff

Amin Nash

I was probably like most students around the Claremont Colleges. I wanted on-campus research opportunities, began exploring Handshake for some jobs, and eventually came across the HPC Support Staff position in Pomona College. Though the job was under Pomona’s ITS department, I was attracted by the chance to help write reports deriving from various completed projects. I figured it was a chance for me to mix my major in the Humanities with the field of technology. I spoke briefly with Asya, was invited to the first meeting, and what ended up happening – which I hope is similar to most students around the Claremont Colleges – was the sheer overwhelming feeling of profound information that left me slightly anxious in confusion, but immensely excited for the possibilities.

A little bit about myself:  Before coming to Claremont Graduate University, I worked about four to five years in the business world of web startups and hospitality companies, using my education to write content, policies, and business plans. I also made extra cash working as a bouncer at various Hollywood nightclubs (I’m not your plug). Though I was paid well and the work was consistent, I was always left feeling unfulfilled and wanted to contribute more to society. I wanted to work harder, to grind, to struggle. So I enrolled into the Master’s of Arts program in English at CGU, hoping to finish by 2020 and to attain concrete knowledge to help prove, adapt, and innovate my thoughts into society. Specifically, I chose Claremont because of its approach in trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies: I could adapt my knowledge, my skills, and my goals into fields outside of my own.

Why English? Because I love it, that’s why.

So it goes without question that my initial experiences with HPC was met with a lot of tension, mainly from myself. During the first meeting, Asya threw out terms like “NLP”, “GIS”, “GitHub”, “Neuroscience networks and cognitive recognition reflective for sentiment analysis” (like, what the hell, man). I immediately regretted my 4-5 years of my past business work, as I realized how much I have missed in life, and how fast things change. I did not know people could share their projects into repositories (GitHub), and I did not know that C++ is becoming an “old language” as Python makes its way into modernity.

There was so much to learn! So much I missed! How would I keep up? Why am I an English major??

Then I realized how old I am. The immense speed of advancements made me realize that my experiences growing up far differed from the experiences of Pomona students. I had to admit to myself that even though I’m an “older” student, the students in Pomona will always know more than me when it comes to the current state of technology.

I really had to swallow my anxieties and my discomfort. I had to admit to myself that I’m older, that I do not know a lot about technology, and because things have changed so fast, I wasn’t able to make it seem like I knew what I was talking about.

So, My solution was to ask a lot questions. “How do I learn Python? What are projects you think I can contribute to? Can I assist with any writing or management projects?”

Asya was very open minded and honest about my position. She knew that with me being a Humanities major, it would be hard to actively “work” in technology and sciences, but that didn’t stop us from finding out how to contribute. Since I have experience in websites and blogs, Asya allowed me to use these skills to work with the research blog and assist in pumping out student blog entries. Connectivity and interaction between audience and product is essential in English, and being able to articulate the students’ thoughts was a valuable skill that kept me working. We found that being “older” and being a Humanities major isn’t a bad thing, in fact, was somewhat beneficial.

From there, I began contributing more to the In the Know Lab, working with other students to learn the equipment as well as make it approachable for new students. Most prominently, I was able to attach myself to the Digital Innovations Text Lab with fellow student Jack Weber and ITS Business Analyst Kristina Khederlarian, and that allowed me actively engage with a research project throughout the semester. Through this project, I learned the details on using Python’s ability to recall various corpora and large bodies of texts, tokenize certain sentiments and terms from the texts, and numerating them to find patterns within human logic – specifically for trustworthiness.

Things turned out alright for this “old English major.”

Just like every student, I got busy with final papers and research projects of my own. It was challenging to mix the job with research projects, but Asya made it easy to contribute while also dealing with an immense course load. I was very grateful for that.

If there’s any advice I could give to fellow students in the struggle, it would be to embrace it and to do your best. Don’t feel overwhelmed and don’t feel “out of place”. There is a place for you and it just takes some effort to really begin to contribute. Take the lessons you learned, put them in your own words, and see if you can continue to make the world a better place!

By Amin Nash

Pomona HPC Members Visit SpaceX in Hawthorne

Four Members of HPC Support Staff Took a Day Trip to SpaceX

Amin (CGU – English), Chris (Pomona – Economics), Nicole (Pomona – Computer Science), Lindsey (Pomona – Mathematics)

On April 4, 2019, HPC Director Asya Shklyar took four members of the HPC Support Staff to visit SpaceX in Hawthorne, Los Angeles. In order to beat the notorious South LA traffic, Asya arranged for an afternoon meeting in Hermosa Beach where she treated the four staffers – Chris Nardi (Pomona, Economics), Lindsey Tam (Pomona, Mathematics), Nicole Talisay (Pomona, Computer Science), and Amin Nash (CGU, English) – to a few hours on the beach and a very delicious dinner at Abigaile. Students enjoyed healthy meals of roasted salmon, mushroom meatballs, and scallops with beautiful views of the ocean.

After dinner, the students were off to Hawthorne to visit SpaceX. Asya introduced the students to Jesse Keller, who worked in one of the managing departments of SpaceX and was very enthusiastic to show the students around the campus. Jesse gave an overview of SpaceX from its first rocket launch in 2010 to its current state of producing more than three (3) rockets a month, pointing out that the primary focus of SpaceX was to always push their mission forward and think big. The students got to see the different engines being manufactured and the immense attention to details each engine contained – from the exhausts to the bearings. The students also got to engage with 3D printers that printed in metal (fun fact: In The Know Lab uses a smaller printer that uses resin and filament instead of metal), all while watching engineers work on the cockpits of future space shuttles.

Amin (CGU), Nicole (Pomona), Lindsey (Pomona), Chris (Pomona)

One of the biggest takeaways from the trip was Jesse’s explanation of how SpaceX was committed to making the technology that makes the rockets, and not exactly create the rockets themselves. He compared this to a similar model for Tesla, where they were interested in a way to produce more electric cars instead of changing the technology of the vehicle. With this in mind, Jesse showed the students the various technologies that helps engineers and mechanics produce the various parts of the rocket. The end of each production level can be compared to making a Lego rocket, where each individual piece can be “attached” together easily and efficiently. The most important thing is that each part works extremely well!

The trip, as a whole, was fun and engaging. The students got to see the various real-world implications that goes into planning, inventing, and innovating a space craft, as well as the administrative and management side of the entire process. Various equipment – such as the 3D Printer and other technologies – are available in Pomona at an educational level, and they are actively used in a bigger platform such as SpaceX. All in all, the students got to engage and connect with one another in Hawthorne while also learning about a large-scale operation with big plans for the future.

Some fun on the beach 🙂







Brendan Interviews The Quietest Member of HPC Support

Brendan Interviews the Quietest Member of HPC Support
Brendan Ly interviewed Sabina Kou in April, asking how her background fits for HPC Support, and what have been some of her experiences so far.


Sabina Kou (Pomona, Economics) and Brendan Ly (Pomona, Computer Science)

Sabina: I decided to apply for HPC because I needed an on-campus job and this one was the one that appealed the most to me. In high school, I did a lot of Computer Science (I was the founder / president of the Hack Club and the Computer Programming Club) and I took classes in AP Computer Science and whatnot.

When I applied for college, I applied specifically for Computer Science, but that changed when I got to Pomona because I heard mixed reviews on committing to Computer Science and I didn’t want to make that sort of commitment. Now I am an Economics major and a Math minor.

Last semester, I was trained to use the 3D printer and VR equipment, and I also got to show some people the lab. I was on the Bio-Art project but when school became busy, I was unable to do much for it. I decided to stay with HPC because I like the type of boss Asya is, and I actually do enjoy our meetings and projects.

HPC actually helped me learn how to communicate better and manage myself and time better.

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.