- Student Experience
Our Student Stories are a special collection of experiences and thoughts from the students themselves. Check out what our student employees find exciting and worth taking some time to tell you about.
At the OSL we use Packer to build our images, because of the reproducible and easy work-flow it allows. We can create an entire operating system image based off a Linux distribution without any interaction! With this we are looking to add much more complete and automated testing.
To help with this we have decided to create a Github repository called Packer Templates. This is what the OSL will be using to generate OpenStack operating system images that many of our hosted projects use. We have been hard at work making this a reality for around 2 months and counting, and we still have a lot of work to do!
In order to get any Linux distribution to install automatically, you have to use their version of automated installation. They all have different names and syntax, but generally all follow the same pattern:
Because we are using packer with QEMU (Virtual Machine software), even step #1 can be automated through VNC, meaning you just run the program and it does everything for you! One of the major reasons we made this into a Github repository is so we can take this a step further: automated testing. Each time we make a pull request with some changes to the installation scripts, we have Jenkins build the system images, then test them to make sure they work. We don't have to worry about some change in a script breaking an unrelated system, and we don't introduce bugs through adding features!
Programming languages are a touchy topic in Computer Science. In certain crowds even mentioning a language will elicit groans and eye-rolling. Conversely, there are crowds that will only use certain languages for all projects.
These people have lost sight of the fact that programming languages are tools. Languages have certain problem sets that they're really good at and some not so much. If you were to ask me to do some complex math or signal processing, I would point you to MATLAB. Would I use MATLAB for developing a GUI? Not in a million years. So why do we choose C? Well, C is efficient since it's practically one step above assembly and with a modern compiler it compiles down to a small executable. Plus modern compilers have extremely good optimization algorithms that can optimize your program better than if you wrote it by hand in Assembly. This makes C a great tool for embedded programming and systems level programming, which is why we have been using it for so long in these fields! However, a downside (and upside!) of C is that it's like assembly. It will let you do whatever you want, even if that means shooting yourself in the foot. There is no type safety, there is no memory protection, and no thread safety built into the language. You have to do all of that yourself with mutexes, semaphores, and checks. It's good to know about these concepts and be able to design a system that puts these protections in place, but every project should not be an exercise in memory management and complex concurrency. We should move on to tools that help you rather than give you enough rope to hang yourself with. With computers being as important as they are, security should be our number one priority when writing software. If you're writing an application that does an unbounded copy from input (ex. heartbleed) in your final release, you just added another vector of attack to someone's computer.
We should be writing code that is safe and avoids all sorts of memory issues that can be solved by using the right tools. Writing C is cool because it's freeing, but I think we should move to bigger and better tools that save us from our own stupid mistakes and hit us over the head with them.
As for embedded programming, there are other options out there that maybe won't be as small as C, but will make your device more secure. (Insert plug for Rust here)
As of September 8th, my time here at OSU will officially come to an end. As sad as I'll be to leave my life here in Corvallis and as nervewracking it is to enter the real world, I realized recently I've spent the last seventeen years of my life in school and I'm ready to break free!
I'll be leaving with both a degree in English and in music performance, both of which have taught me so much not just about their respective fields, but about growing up and how to work with what you've got.
While I did not have the skills or the privilage to be a student developer or systems administrator, I feel that my time here at the OSL has been incredibly valuable. I've learned so much here that I would never have gained from a class. The challenges I've faced and the experiences I've had taught me diligence, patience, and flexibility. I firmly believe that my time here at the OSL has shaped me into a person who is unafraid and excited to leave college.
I'm more than ready to start my new life, but I will miss the friends I've made and the life I've created here at OSU. The best of luck to my peers and go beavs!
OSU Open Source Lab
224 Milne Computer Center
1800 SW Campus Way
Corvallis, OR 97331