Summer at ESnet: the view from our students: Part 1

Summer students are a key part of growing ESnet and supporting the scientific networking community. Every year, we host research projects with talented students working on important research topics. We benefit tremendously from their enthusiasm, talent, and fresh ideas, and they work directly with our staff across a wide set of disciplines.  Here are some thoughts from two current students on what it is like to work with ESnet, and what research excites them.

Sandesh Dhawaskar Sathyanarayana:

I am thrilled with my summer internship at ESnet. During my Multipath Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) research, I used in-kernel programs to implement receiver-based network controllers and have always wanted to work more on it as it allows one to hook into the kernel and innovate the different network protocols. Software Defined Networking (SDN) along with dataplane and kernel network programming is trending as it enables the telecom world to save billions of dollars and operate the network more efficiently. 

My goal for this summer was to work and innovate in the SDN field, and ESnet was the perfect fit for it. At ESnet, I work on the Q-factor project using technologies such as eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filters) and XDP (eXpress Data Path) to improve data transfer speeds in science networks. I get to play with the state-of-the-art P4 dataplane programming language for switches and programmable NICs. The project is a collaboration with Florida International University (FIU), so I get to work with amazing people. Our team is small, with great mentors like Richard Cziva and Jeronimo Bezerra. 

What I love the most is the freedom to think and solve problems with great support. Having to work in different labs, I used to be stressed most of the time to complete the work. This summer has been a very different experience with excellent mentorship. I also had other offers and chose ESnet as my advisor and co-advisors insisted strongly, and I am happy I went with ESnet.

Elias Joseph:

Interning at ESnet has been a really good learning experience for me. The regular seminars from researchers in the lab about their current projects have allowed me to learn about a lot of topics I usually wouldn’t have much exposure to, as well as see how the concepts I have learned about in school are being applied in a professional environment. It is really interesting to see how machine learning is actively being used at the laboratory, and what current advancements are being made with it.

As much as I’m learning from the seminars, I’m learning even more from the project I’m working on. This internship is giving me experience using a lot of tools that are prevalent in computer science but are underutilized in my master’s program, and my mentor has been extremely helpful in getting me up to speed on these tools.

I’ve also found working on my project very fulfilling. Primarily I’ve been working on a tool that displays internet traffic, as well as predictions for future traffic, and seeing it come together over the past month and a half has been really cool.

I do miss the social aspect of working in an office, but the networking and social activities that have been organized have done a lot to alleviate that, and overall, I have grown a lot in the first half of my internship.

If you are interested in learning more about future summer opportunities with ESnet, please see this link — we typically post notices and accept applications for the next summer starting in January or February.

Diversity & Inclusion POV: Michael Sinatra

At ESnet, we believe that a diverse workforce results in creative ideas and innovations. So we aim to create an inclusive working environment where people feel valued and can share their thoughts and ideas. In this series, we’ll be sharing perspectives from our staff in hopes of sharing our lessons learned and igniting conversations.

 As part of ESnet’s ongoing inclusion effort, we held a workshop, “Empathy: A Building Block for Inclusiveness,” last month to discuss proactive approaches to understanding others. Mukundagiri Kandadai Ramanujam (‘Ram’ for short), Lead Trainer with Love To Share Foundation, facilitated the discussion. Michael Sinatra, a network engineer at ESnet, shares his thoughts on the workshop.

Michael Sinatra, ESnet Network Engineer

Michael Sinatra, ESnet Network Engineer

At ESnet, we deal with a lot of complex issues, which generate a lot of subtle risks and benefits. We also have a diverse staff that has different communication styles. I have found Ram’s seminars really helpful in reminding us of the benefit of understanding employees’ underlying concerns when we communicate. 

In the seminar, Ram made the distinction in interpersonal communication among statements that are intellectual or state neutral facts, versus those that evaluate, judge and eventually label. By using empathy to understand the underlying needs being expressed by our coworkers, we can better convey the important things that need to be communicated in our organization without causing emotional issues to block out the underlying needs of the organization. Emotions have a place at work, but they can also cloud our ability to see important issues in our jobs.

The discussion reminded me of an example from a previous workplace. When I was 21 I had a summer job at a factory where, as one of my assignments, I had to do some work with the plant machinist, who had been told by the plant managers that he had an “attitude problem.” In the course of our work, when my colleague began grumbling about something I was doing, I, aware of this person’s alleged attitude problem, tried to be as emotionally neutral as I could to find out—on an intellectual level— why he was grumbling. It turns out that my colleague had identified a serious safety issue in what I was doing. We were able to correct the issue quickly before it caused more problems. I realized that my colleague might not have an attitude problem at all, but he might just have had some trouble communicating important issues to others, and then he would get frustrated when people didn’t take his concerns seriously.

I have tried to apply some of these concepts by being more open about my underlying motivations, especially when expressing concerns about something. At the same time, I have tried to better, and more neutrally, understand my colleagues’ concerns and motivations. Ram showed us that empathy works both ways–by better exposing our own needs and concerns, we can better communicate about the issues that are important to ESnet, and by applying the principles of empathy to our colleagues, we can better understand where they’re coming from, regardless of differences in communication style or culture.

On January 10, 2017, Berkeley Lab’s Scientific Networking Division hosted an “Empathy: A Building Block for Inclusion” discussion, facilitated by Mukundagiri Kandadai Ramanujam,  Lead Trainer with Love to Share Foundation. (Photo Credit: Sowmya Balasubramanian, ESnet)