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2016 LLNL spring hackathon participants

Spring Hackathon Sees Projects with Multi-Group Applications Bloom into Being

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sixty-eight people participated in Lawrence Livermore’s 2016 spring hackathon as part of 39 different projects. The event began on March 17 in the High Performance Computing Innovation Center with opening remarks from John Fisher, the acting director of the NIF Computing Applications Division (NIFC), who highlighted the strong turnout.

The hackathons, which occur every spring, summer, and fall, are sponsored by Computation as a whole but are often directly organized by members from different groups within Computation. This spring’s main coordinator, Jorge Castro Morales, comes to the event from NIFC; it is his second time organizing the event. His co-coordinators were Jessica Mauvais, Lisa Pombo, and Diane Holloway. Also guiding the hackathon committee was a group of past coordinators, such as Esteban Pauli and Greg Lee, with input from future coordinators, such as Ian Lee.

“This is the first hackathon where NIFC has partnered with Enterprise Applications Services to host the event,” said Castro Morales. “It’s been a really great experience to collaborate with them because it’s meant a lot of cross-communication between disparate groups within the directorate. I’ve gotten to work with people who I normally wouldn’t ever see, and it’s really helped build more connectivity within the huge system that is Comp.”

The diverse range of people brought together by the hackathon extends outside the organizing body of the event to its participants. Attendees included employees from Engineering, Global Security, Weapons and Complex Integration, and many more. Castro Morales explained that this is one of the aspects of the event that makes it valuable, saying, “With each event, I think more people recognize how much the collaboration, communication, and cross-talk between the different compartments [of the directorate] can benefit the entire organization.”

That communal benefit can be seen in the projects brought to the table this year. Almost all the hackathon endeavors aimed to improve upon a system used by a wide swath of individuals from various groups. Thomas Bennett, for example, a Livermore Computing (LC) system administrator, created a platform that allows LC users, who hail from many groups within the directorate, to check if their addition to a network is compliant with LC guidelines, to prevent machines from having bad network configurations. As Bennett explained in his presentation at the conclusion of the hackathon on March 18, “A simple example of this is that a user is never able to add an unclassified machine to a classified network, and vice versa.” Bennett completed code during the 24-hour event that was deployed to 5,967 computers before the hackathon was even over, allowing LC users to employ an existing platform called Splunk to visualize their compliance status. Splunk will display a red section in a pie graph full of (otherwise compliant) green to let a user know if they’ve added a machine to the wrong network. This function will greatly reduce the effect of “human error,” to which Bennett good-naturedly referred during his presentation.

In other examples of projects with cross-disciplinary applications, Karl Albrecht and his team from LivIT create a mobile app that helps users find open conference rooms in their vicinity, and several hackathon attendees worked with representatives from the Public Affairs Office to continue development of a mobile recruiting app.

Katie Lewis, the Applications, Simulations, and Quality Division leader, was one of the initiators of the first hackathon in 2011. “I try to attend each hackathon and check in with the developments that happen there,” she said. “I really like to see so many Comp employees having such a good time and exercising their creativity in a way that’s different from their everyday job.”

Even as hackathon participants get to stretch their computational skills outside their programmatic area, they craft solutions to obstacles encountered by employees across the Lab, producing projects that make a tangible difference to the function of tools used Lab-wide.