The success of Developer Day is measured by the connections that people in our audience make to each other.
Elsa Gonsiorowski
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Second Annual Developer Day Continues to Build on Success

Thursday, September 20, 2018

During Computation’s 2018 Developer Day on August 15, event co-chair Kyle Dickerson told a story (“definitely apocryphal at best”) about President John F. Kennedy’s trip to Cape Canaveral during the Apollo missions. Upon encountering one of the facility’s janitors, Kennedy asked him what he did for NASA. The janitor’s reply: “We’re going to the moon.”

Apocryphal or not, the janitor story illustrated Dickerson’s point: Every person at the Laboratory has a role in supporting Livermore’s mission, and few groups are more critical than Computation. “All missions at the Lab rely foundationally on computing,” said Bruce Hendrickson, associate director of computation, during his remarks introducing the event. But because so many different groups utilize the talents of Computation employees, they rarely have the chance to discuss new technologies and solve common problems together. Developer Day is one solution to bridging that distance.

Begun in 2017, the event was designed to reduce the duplication of effort between teams across the Laboratory working on similar projects. Whether writing algorithms for the Global Security directorate or developing a website for the National Ignition Facility, programmers can use the event to discover new methods and share solutions that will improve their day-to-day work and therefore, the Laboratory’s missions.

“The success of Developer Day is measured by the connections that people in our audience make to each other,” said Elsa Gonsiorowski, one of the organizers of this year’s event.

Figure 1. Esteban Pauli presented a Lightning Talk about C2C at Developer Day. (Photo by Zeke Morton.)

Following Hendrickson’s remarks, Dickerson kicked off the second annual day with a keynote talk titled “Pragmatic Software Development.” Using the Japanese concept of continuous improvement—kaizen—he outlined why software development requires craftsmanship. “We went to school and learned computer science, but we still need to learn and apply the art of computer science,” said Dickerson, with an emphasis on “art.” Even if used for the same purpose, he said, two pieces of software can vary widely in design, usability, and long-term maintainability. “There’s no such thing as perfect software,” he said, but everyone is responsible for writing responsible code that can be improved upon in the future. Dickerson’s talk was “the real highlight this year,” said Gonsiorowski.

The effort to improve upon success was a thread that ran throughout the day. After last year’s Developer Day, attendees enjoyed the panels so much that the organizers added a second one. During their “Computing in the Future” panel, Robin Goldstone, Cyrus Harrison, and Jonathan DuBois each outlined how the future of computing might look at Lawrence Livermore, a place already responsible for so much of the nation’s progress in that field.

Goldstone explained that the term exascale—used to describe the Laboratory’s post-Sierra machines—is used instead of exaflop because moving data between the processors and memory is becoming more restrictive than a computer’s ability to calculate. “We care about balanced performance,” she said. Harrison made a number of predictions in a presentation titled “Apocryphal Report from the Future on LLNL’s Simulation Application Ecosystem,” while DuBois outlined the cutting edge of Livermore’s quantum computing efforts. A later panel, “Mentoring and Mentor Programs,” was a close look at the resources, strategies, and opportunities available to young staff and interns in Computation.

Figure 2. As part of a Developer Day discussion panel on the future of computing, Robin Goldstone explained the difference between exascale and exaflop. (Photo by Zeke Morton.)

“It’s important to step back from the day-to-day work and remember we’re heading somewhere,” said Dickerson of the panels. “We can either try to help steer and influence where we end up, or sit back and let the environment around us dictate. Things are going to change one way or another, and we need to be ready to deal with it.”

The rest of the day featured a series of “Lightning Talks”—quick successions of three-minute project overviews from all over the Laboratory—and “Deep Dives” that outlined more detail about more advanced initiatives. One such Deep Dive came from Justin Barno, a past organizer of one of Computation’s other efforts to cultivate innovation, the hackathon. Barno explained the computer science concept of a “container,” a way of separating pieces of software into discrete, self-sufficient items for ease of transport and modularization.

“So far I’ve had several people tell me they enjoyed the day and look forward to next year,” said Dickerson. “I felt the day went very well, and I’m happy with the results.”

Plans are already in the works for a third annual Developer Day. “I think folks are aware of the different projects going on around the Lab,” said Gonsiorowski, “so I hope we can find a way to foster those connections with a fun, hands-on type activity.” True to form, the plans for Developer Day are always in development.

– Ben Kennedy