skip page navigation Oregon State University


Building a bright future with devops

Building a bright future with devops

Sometimes finding the best solution means starting over. That was Mike Cooper’s dilemma as he tackled his first solo project at the Oregon State University Open Source Lab. An OSU sophomore studying computer science who had just been hired in March 2010 to work as a system administrator for the lab, he was tasked with securing a network connection that could be extended to laptops, allowing lab staff and hosted projects to connect to the lab's private network from anywhere. Cooper decided to scrap the previous method that others had planned to use to link the network servers and instead opted for a virtual private network, a transient link between servers that he felt was a better fit for the lab's needs.

“When I started the project it was kind of hard for me to look at this and say ‘No, we should be doing something else’ and throw away all that work,” Cooper says.“But I decided that the approach they were taking wouldn't work very well for what we wanted.”

Cooper felt sure that his proposed solution would be well suited to the lab’s needs. There was only one problem: He didn't have detailed enough knowledge of how the computers handle networking to complete the necessary steps to ensure the VPN was as effective and convenient as possible.

“This was the first time I was working on something that people were going to use,” Cooper says. “If it was down to the point where I needed to learn this fairly complicated thing that usually you don't have to know for a project of my own, I probably would have gotten bored and wandered off to another project.”

But that wasn't an option this time. Aware that his VPN design would be used by lab staff members as well as representatives from the open source projects the lab hosts (including worldwide leaders like Drupal, Apache and Linux), Cooper took the time to learn the complexities of the lab’s servers. With that knowledge, he was able to configure the VPN to operate in the exact capacity needed for the lab — a task he performed so well that the VPN is still in use today.

“That was kind of my introduction to the OSL and what it means to have a professional-level service that you're running,” Cooper says. “I learned how our CFEngine system works and manages the servers, and I had take into consideration who our users are and what their needs are. I hadn’t done that before.”


Cooper working on servers at the OSL.

Over the next two years, Cooper continued to extend his professional knowledge as an OSL system administrator. He worked on servers, helped manage projects and communicated with representatives of hosted projects to resolve questions. As he gained experience with the lab, he also took on a mentoring role toward newer students, who he helped acclimate to the lab.

“I've always been in a position where I like to teach people about technology, but doing it in a professional capacity definitely helped me grow,” Cooper says.

For Cooper, collaborating with his peers and with professional staff members in the OSL was just as valuable as interacting with users and external project managers. “Being surrounded by experts,” he says, was both motivational and educational.

“The contacts I made through the OSL really helped my education,” Cooper says. “The pace was much quicker than in classes because the pace is you learn as quickly as you can; not for the midterm next week. You don't wait to learn.”

And that proactive perspective quickly helped Cooper find success outside of the lab as well. During the summer following his junior year, he landed an internship with ITA Software, a company that had just been acquired by Google. At ITA Software, Cooper worked in a development position, allowing him to round out the experience in system administration that he’d gained at the OSL.

As he neared graduation this year, Cooper found his professional skills were so comprehensive that he was able to not only successfully interview for a job with Mozilla, but was offered a position as a Web developer, even though the bulk of his experience was in system administration.

“During the interview process I actually found that my experience as a system administrator was very useful; I could draw on my experience as a system administrator to answer questions in a way they liked,” Cooper says. “It’s experience that most Web developers wouldn’t have. I know that without the OSL, I probably would not have gotten that job.”

Switching to development in his career was another instance when Cooper recognized that his best option was to take a new approach.

“I enjoy system administration, but I enjoy development more,” he says.

For Cooper, finding work immediately after graduation in the field he is passionate about is a rewarding result of his experience at the OSL and the work he’s done over the last two years. The unique environment of the lab, he says, helps students find uncommon success.

“It's probably been one of the best experiences that I've had so far, and it's probably the single most beneficial thing I've done as far as my career and my personal learning,” Cooper says. “Being in contact with a real environment and having permission to work autonomously is something that students don't usually get. We have a particular level of responsibility and a particular level of trust and that helps us grow.”

Media contact: Kayla Harr,

To support the OSL and the student employees who help the lab provide top-quality hosting and development services, visit our Donate page.

Connect with the Open Source Lab at OSCON 2012

Connect with the Open Source Lab at OSCON 2012

Staff members and students from the Oregon State University Open Source Lab will represent the lab at Portland’s O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) July 16-20. An annual open source conference, OSCON engages all aspects of the open source community with sessions, tutorials, keynote presentations and an expo.

The OSL will be present throughout the conference at the OSCON Expo, where the lab will have a booth alongside open source leaders like Drupal, Facebook and Intel. In addition, OSL Associate Director of Operations Lance Albertson will lead a session on open source private cloud platforms. Albertson plans to discuss the various features offered by different cloud computing platforms and offer insight on how to choose a platform that best meets a project’s needs.

Those interested in learning more about the OSL will have the opportunity to meet members of the lab’s staff and familiarize themselves with lab operations at the OSL’s Birds of a Feather (BoF) session. The BoF is an informal meeting between students and staff from the lab and community or industry members who are interested in the lab’s operations, projects or future. The OSL booth will also present opportunity for OSCON attendees to learn about the lab. OSL student employees at the booth will answer questions, interact with the community and distribute OSL swag.

While participating in OSCON, the OSL will also celebrate its first alumni reception, welcoming students and staff who worked with the OSL in the past and supported the lab’s success. More than 55 OSL alumni have gone on to successful careers in the technical industry, where they have joined top companies, created their own start-ups and made innovative contributions to open source technologies. Three of those alumni will lead sessions at OSCON: Deborah Bryant, the OSL’s former public sector communities manager; former Outreach Manager Leslie Hawthorn; and former student employee Brandon Phillips.

For those attending OSCON, connect with OSL staff and students:

Comparing Open Source Private Cloud Platforms, Lance Albertson
Time: 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, July 18
Location: D139-140

Open Source Lab Birds of a Feather session
Time: 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 18
Location: E141

Visit the Open Source Lab in the Expo Hall at Booth 816.

Alumni Presentations:

Free the Code: The Case for the U.S. Federal Government to Open Source Software as a Default Position, Deborah Bryant, John Scott
Time: 2:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19
Location: E146

Assholes are Killing Your Project, Donnie Berkholz, Leslie Hawthorn
Time: 11 a.m. Friday, July 20
Location: F151

One Tiny Daemon to Harvest Your Server Statistics (And More), Brandon Phillips
Time: 11:50 a.m. Friday, July 20
Location: D139-40

See the full OSCON schedule here.

Media contact: Kayla Harr,

Setting the bar high

Setting the bar high

The Oregon State University Open Source Lab’s Beaver BarCamp 9 brought around 70 people to the Kelley Engineering Center on April 21 to discuss projects, explore new interests and share ideas. The sessions held throughout the day varied greatly in topic — from robotics to hydroponic gardening to gaming — but all shared an open forum and flexibility that promoted discussion and collaborative learning.

In Daniel Miller’s session, Indoor Hydroponic Gardening, he used diagrams and photos to demonstrate how he built a hydroponic gardening structure in his small room using materials purchased at a home improvement store. Nearly all of the 10 people who attended Miller’s session spoke at least once, asking for clarification about his methods, offering suggestions on how to improve the structure and even giving Miller ideas about what to make once the tomatoes he is cultivating are ripe. The most popular suggestions? Pizza and salsa.

“I started doing indoor hydroponics just a couple months ago,” says Miller, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science. “So some of the input I got was good, like the idea of buying pipes at an irrigation store. You give and you get information here.”

Attendees brought expertise in a variety of fields, culminating in immersive discussions both in and between sessions. When one member of a session group didn’t understand a concept, other attendees would assist the presenter in using a different frame of thinking to communicate ideas.


Soo-Hyun Yoo, far left, answers questions about the robot-
operating-system-controlled robots he built and programmed.

Soo Hyun-Yoo, a freshman in computer science, presented his two robot-operating-system-controlled robots in his session, explaining how the ROS software runs his robots and demonstrating their movement with a joystick tripod he built himself. Hyun-Yoo, who has worked on his robots for 18 months, says sharing a project with others can provide helpful insights to the presenter as well as the audience.

“It’s nice to have other people to bounce ideas off of, just a fresh set of eyes to find problems you don’t see yourself,” Hyun-Yoo says.

This collaborative spirit is much the inspiration for BarCamp and its spontaneous nature. Sessions at BarCamp can be presented by anyone on any topic, and were proposed throughout the day by attendees who wrote their topic on colorful cards and taped it onto the event schedule. Participants were invited to follow their interests and attend whichever sessions caught their attention. While computer science and programming remained the interests shared by most BarCamp attendees, the diverse sessions allowed people to apply that interest to a wide range of topics.


Members of Portland State University’s Computer Action Team
present and demonstrate the automation software Puppet.

In one session, representatives from Portland State University took to a KEC classroom to discuss the PSU Computer Action Team’s use of Puppet automation software and detailed how others could effectively utilize Puppet in system administration. Simultaneously, a radically different session was taking place on the lawn outside the building: How to Find Four-Leaf Clovers.


Open Source Lab Developer Emily Dunham, center, and student Nick Snowhill search for four-leaf clovers with guidance from student Amanda Abbot, right.

Amanda Abbott, a junior in chemistry, led the session, in which she instructed her participants in how to recognize a four-leaf clover in a dense patch of clovers and grass. Abbott has been regularly finding four-leaf clovers since elementary school, she says, and quickly discovered several in the grass near the KEC front entrance.

“The best piece of advice is to find the thing that’s not a three-leaf clover,” Abbott says.

While searching for clovers, OSL Developer Emily Dunham reflected on how the process could be likened to the methods programmers use to teach machines to recognize objects. The strategy of finding the object that doesn’t belong, Dunham says, is similar to how one would program a computer to identify four-leaf clovers.

“I like the tools that computer science gives you for breaking things down and understanding the way a problem is solved,” Dunham says. “Because if you can explain something to a computer, you can explain it to anyone.”

The impromptu application of technical thinking to other subjects prevailed during breaks between sessions and during the BarCamp lunch hour. While enjoying refreshments, participants took advantage of the opportunity to talk about new technologies and best practices in everything from programming to education.

In addition to learning about each other’s interests, BarCamp participants also had the opportunity to attend a presentation from OSL Associate Director of Operations Lance Albertson about the lab’s projects and infrastructure. Following the presentation, which addressed what the OSL offers, how lab staff manage projects and why the lab utilizes particular organization schemes and materials over others, attendees were invited on a tour of the lab. According to Albertson, being able to bring interested community members into the lab and give people who may use software the OSL hosts the opportunity to see the physical location is part of what makes Beaver BarCamp a unique and valuable event for the lab.

“It's a way for us to directly interface with the local community,” Albertson says. “It also gives us a chance to meet other students that might potentially be interested in working with us and have face to face conversations with them.”

For most participants, the relaxed environment and diversity of topics at Beaver BarCamp are what make the event most enjoyable. Mark Overholser, who has attended BarCamp regularly since 2009, says he continues to come because the sessions are unpredictable but always worthwhile.

“You never know what is going to happen but you show up because there’s bound to be something interesting,” Overholser says. “People get together and talk, share ideas, and you learn things you may not have thought of before. You have to take it on faith that there is going to be something great.”

Beaver BarCamp is hosted semiannually by the OSL, which hosts some of the most well known open source projects in the world and facilitates more than 600,000 unique downloads daily around the world. The OSL presents Beaver BarCamp to promote idea sharing, collaboration and open source innovation, and will return with Beaver BarCamp 10 this fall.

Media contact: Kayla Harr,

To support the OSL's world-class hosting and development services, as well as events like Beaver BarCamp, visit our Donate page.

Open source, open future

Open source, open future

Students reap the benefits of professional programming experience at the OSU Open Source Lab

As a freshman at Oregon State University in early 2010, Jordan Evans didn't have a lot of computer science experience. Though he had always had an interest in computers, Evans had come to OSU as a mathematics major and, like many first-year students, didn't yet have a clear idea of what he hoped to do with his education.

“I decided I liked math classes better than I liked computer science classes, so I kept taking math classes,” Evans says. “I really had no idea what I would do with it. I knew what I liked but I didn’t know how to apply that to anything.”

Two years later, Evans' career goals have undergone a radical change. Since June 2010, Evans has worked at OSU's Open Source Lab, where he’s built up an impressive resume that includes two years of professional experience as a system administrator, a summer internship with Google and knowledge of exactly what he wants to do in the future.

“I think the OSL kind of shaped my interests,” Evans says. “Working here gives us a practical application for everything that we’re doing in classes.”

Evans is one of 12 students working at the lab, which provides hosting and support services to some of the most well-known open source projects in the world. Students work alongside professional staff members to maintain servers, write program code and provide technical support for the software the OSL hosts.

While the lab fulfills a valuable role at OSU by hosting various projects and helping the university reduce costs through open source software alternatives, its services make an even bigger impact on a worldwide scale, enabling more than 600,000 downloads daily and contributing to software like the Drupal content management system, Apache Web server and Linux operating system that individuals, start-up businesses and organizations around the globe use every day.

Code for success

But the OSL's greatest impact may be the ubiquitous effect it has on the students who spend years of their college careers learning and working in the lab. Nearly all of the students who have worked at the lab since its inception in 2003 have gone on to find immediate success in the technical world after graduation, founding start-up companies, receiving job offers from top software companies and enjoying the opportunity to define their own professional paths.

With graduates at companies like Google and Mozilla, as well as at the helm of several successful start-up companies, the OSL has a habit of producing students who are prepared to skyrocket through the industry. The advantage, says Alex Polvi, an OSU alumnus who worked at the OSL throughout his college years, is the foundation of practical experience students are allowed to build in the lab.

“The critical part is real-world experience, solving problems for actual customers with skills that are needed in the real world,” Polvi says. “You’re going to graduate with a job from here and have a real career path.”

Polvi experienced firsthand the powerful impact a few years at the OSL can have on a developing career. While working at the OSL, he completed internships with Google and Mozilla. During his senior year he worked for Mozilla remotely from OSU, and the company offered him a job immediately after graduation. Polvi and two other OSU alums went on to form Cloudkick, a startup that drew several million dollars from investors before being purchased by a larger company.

“I do not hesitate at all saying that my success is 100 percent because of the OSL,” Polvi says. “They set me up to have a successful career. Without that, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”

A blend of mentorship and independence

As a system administrator, Evans largely determines his own projects and has the experience and the knowledge to solve most of his own problems. While students receive a great amount of training from professional staff during their first several months at the lab, Evans says students who have been at the lab longer become mentors themselves, helping new students familiarize themselves with the work.

“We’re still learning a lot, but we’re also able to teach others,” Evans says. “That really solidifies what we’ve learned. If we’re able to teach it to someone new and pass on that same knowledge, then we’ve definitely come to a point where we understand the skills and the technical knowledge required.”

That shift in responsibilities is part of the process OSL Associate Director of Operations Lance Albertson hopes to provide students with throughout their time in the lab. Albertson gives students increasing levels of independence as they progress and lets them tackle problems on their own, offering support when they need it but first allowing them the opportunity to succeed without his help.

“I make sure they have ownership of something,” Albertson says. “I try not to manage what they do as much as I can. If I give them a big project they usually take it on and they will immerse themselves.”

According to Evans, the benefit of working independently as well as being responsible for collaborating with other students and the individuals who rely on OSL services goes beyond developing the competence to succeed in a professional environment.

“I think it’s shaped me to do really well because it's taught me not only how to work in the field, but how to work with other people in the field,” Evans says. “In our job we have to reach out and communicate about projects, and it’s taught me to keep an open mind and to not be afraid to seek out a mentor in skills that I don’t have.”

Graduating with an edge

The OSL has continued to expand and play a significant role in the open source community in recent years, and currently provides at least 160 projects with various support services. Its contributions to the largest open source projects in the world include not only technical support but graduates who leave school uniquely prepared to benefit their future employers. According to Polvi, such students are an important resource in a rapidly growing industry.

“The Open Source Lab is churning out students who are probably the most highly skilled people seen coming out of these education systems,” Polvi says. “We need more technical people and more students who can go out and get jobs, and this is such a great model for that.”

Recognizing the value of the lab, leaders in the industry have responded with support that has made it possible for the lab to take on more projects. Further industry partnerships, Albertson says, are essential to allow the lab to offer professional experiences to even more students.

“We basically give them a full work experience from the beginning, covering all the facets,” Albertson says. “Not only do they build technical skills, they build personal skills, they build professional skills and they have something tangible when they leave OSU other than a diploma.”

Evans says he didn't understand how much of an impact working at the OSL would have on his future until he started applying for internships and realized how many opportunities were open to him because of his position at the lab. Now, he’s grateful for the advantage of working as a system administrator while earning his degree, and looks forward to that experience bringing him more opportunities in the future.

“This really distinguishes us from other college students," Evans says. "They might have taken all the same classes we did, but we can put on our resume ‘I’ve already been doing this job for the past three years.’ That kind of trumps most things you can have on your resume at this point.”

Media contact: Kayla Harr,

To support the OSL and the student employees who help the lab provide top-quality hosting and development services, visit our Donate page.

Open Source Lab ‘unconference’ approaches

Open Source Lab ‘unconference’ approaches

The Oregon State University Open Source Lab will host Beaver BarCamp 9 Saturday, April 21, in the Kelley Engineering Center. The event is free and open to anyone, including OSU students of all majors and interests, faculty and community members.

Beaver BarCamp is an opportunity to learn about an assortment of projects, skills and interests through discussion in an open, participant-led format. Attendees are invited to devise and lead interactive sessions that others at the conference can join. In the past, BarCamp sessions have focused both on computer and software development and on completely non-technical subjects. Topics have included writing software applications, learning Spanish, screenplay writing, the computer science gender gap, improving Web security and biking, among others.

BarCamps are often described as “unconferences” that blend the informational element of a conference with an informal and participatory philosophy. Instead of lectures and presentations, BarCamp attendees can expect to learn and share their own knowledge through discussions and activities. BarCamp sessions will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but participants can attend any portion of the day to join upcoming sessions. Those who are interested in presenting a talk can propose their sessions at any time throughout the day, though arriving at the beginning of the event to add a session to the schedule is encouraged for maximum participation. Refreshments will be provided.

The OSL hosts Beaver BarCamp semiannually with events in the spring and fall to engage the OSU and Corvallis community in creative discussion and collaboration. The lab is home to more than 160 open source projects and facilitates more than 600,000 unique downloads each day. To support its efforts, the lab employs several qualified OSU students who gain professional experience managing open source projects, maintaining servers and providing support to the open source projects the OSL hosts. Many of those students will present sessions at Beaver BarCamp to share the knowledge and technical skills they've developed through their work at the OSL.

For more information on Beaver BarCamp, including directions to the Kelley Engineering Center, visit

Media contact: Kayla Harr,