Juntao (Jimmy) Zhong ‘23 is a biology/computer science double major at Carleton College and a beloved DataSquad alumn. He is very interested in bioinformatics and has been working in Dr. Rika Anderson’s lab, researching a class of DNA that can migrate within a genome and sometimes across genomes of different species (known in biology as “transposons”). He interned at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise in the summer of ’21, working remotely in Bloomington, MN. The following spring, Aya Klos ‘23 sat down with Jimmy to learn more about his experience with the DataSquad and reflect on the skills he could apply during his internship and beyond.
Aya Klos (AK): What did you do for your internship this past summer?
Jimmy Zhong (JZ): I worked for HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise), which split from HP (Hewlett Packard. They produce computers and printers) in 2015. HPE focuses on supercomputers, cloud computing, and AI (HPE just bought Determined AI in June 2021).
Specifically, I worked for Cray Supercomputer, which was another supercomputer company that HPE bought last year. While I was interning, the Bitbucket logos and half of the code that I used/modified had Cray’s logo on them. But every time a pull request is made, the logo changes.
Within Cray Supercomputer, I worked for the Operating System team (yes, in C++, Shell Script, and many building pipelines). I was coding for validation tests after the installation of the operating system. Even after one summer, I am still very far from knowing as much as my colleagues.
AK: What skills from your experience with the DataSquad helped you during your internship and beyond?
JZ: I learned that documentation skills cater to different audiences. I think documentation can be categorized into “in-team,” “inter-teams,” and “to customers.” Working in a big company, there are typically many teams. It is almost impossible for a general employee to grasp what other teams are working on. Thus, the detailed implementation choices (such as what file structure/object I used, and why I used this dependency) stay within the team.
When people write in-team documentation, they assume readers know this part of the system in detail, and a lot of information is not documented – some senior team members just remember it.
Inter-team documentation has fewer details: “Run these commands and this software will be installed, and this software can do that.” But readers must know the major components of the system and some of the contact points to understand the documentation. For example, “the Lustre file sharing system runs on COS (an internal name for a version of the operating system). If the post-install test does not work, contact … for help. The post-install test usually requires admin privileges and customers usually don’t use it.”
Finally, there is documentation for customers. Note that the “customers” for supercomputers are still trained and skilled system administrators. They do not know about the internal names of different system software, but they have a strong CS background. So terms like “kernel-panic,” “multi-thread concurrency,” or “memory-dump” can appear in the documentation. They will also have a point of contact.
Tying back to DataSquad, I think it is important to know our users: are they STEM students, are they humanities students, or are they humanities professors who know more about computers than an undergrad CS major? And the lifespan of the code also determines how much documentation you should write (is it just for this one-time election project? Or does this project have data coming in every school term?)
Working in the DataSquad, I also became better at communicating with my project manager. Many tech companies use a Trello/Scrum board. The project manager is different from the boss in that he/she is responsible for projects. My experience in the DataSquad taught me how to ask for help from teammates, what to step up when I feel like I can solve an urgent problem, and when to pass projects that I finished to someone else. My work on the DataSuqad also helped me to familiarize myself with a lot of data-related terms, good data life cycle practices, and programming skills (Python, R, etc.); it was all such good practice for what I did at HPE.
AK: What are your future plans for the rest of your time at Carleton and after graduation?
- Prepare for grad school
- Try to get a paper published
- Learn more about bioinformatics
- Take more math classes
- And also take a class in the humanities
AK: Do you have any advice for current and future members of the DataSquad?
JZ: Apply to many opportunities, even though you will be rejected by many of them. I found that submitting a resume was more time efficient than wondering about whether to apply, haha.
Don’t give in to peer pressure. What others are doing is a good reference, but it is good to know what you want to do. For example, I am interested in bioinformatics research (using programs to answer biology questions), but there are few students at Carleton who are interested in this field. Many of my friends are computer scientists/coders, so I was pushed toward the coding side and applied for a software engineer internship. Looking back, I think my summer would have been more well-spent if I just did bioinformatics research on campus with Professor Rika Anderson.
Communication and organization are important. Jimmy mentioned how communication with the project manager and with his teammates was important during his internship. He also described the importance of catering documentation to different audiences. These were essential skills that his time on the DataSquad helped him build.
Don’t be afraid to reach out or apply to interesting opportunities. As Jimmy noted, “submitting a resume was more time efficient than wondering about whether to apply.” Although rejection is scary and disheartening, you shouldn’t let that get in the way of potential opportunities. Don’t be afraid to apply!
Be aware of the potential impact of peer pressure. Let your interests guide you. If you know what you want to do or have an idea of what might interest you, explore your options! You don’t need to follow the same path as those around you. While it is good to be aware of what others in your field or major are doing, it is important to learn about what makes you happy and to pursue that.
AK: I sincerely thank Jimmy for his time talking with me, and for providing us with his invaluable experiences and insights. As I am sure many of us in the DataSquad and Carleton community do, I look forward to continuing to watch the successful, exciting journey Jimmy’s passion for bioinformatics takes him, and hope to follow his advice on following my own interests.