Open Mic Spotlight: Terri Yu

This post is part of the OpenStack Open Mic series to spotlight the people who have helped make OpenStack successful. Each week, a new contributor will step up to the mic and answer five questions about OpenStack, cloud, careers and what they do for fun. terri-yu-hockey

Terri Yu is a GNOME Outreach Program for Women intern working on the Ceilometer component of OpenStack. She also contributes to the open source organization Software Carpentry (part of Mozilla Science Lab), which mission is to teach scientists software skills. In her previous life, she did physics research at MIT and Yale in high energy physics, quantum information, and quantum optics. Now she is transitioning into a career in software and/or data analytics. You can follow her on Twitter at @terrimyu.

1. Where is your happy place? Favorite place to visit, vacation, decompress? 

The ice rink. I’m a diehard hockey player. Usually, I play a defensive forward role, but I’m working on my wrist shot. I love skating fast and spraying snow when I stop. I hope someday to play in the USA Hockey Nationals tournament.

My favorite teams are the San Jose Sharks (NHL) and the Yale Bulldogs (NCAA).  Recently, I started collecting jerseys.  I have few Sharks jerseys, and I just bought a Québec Remparts jersey because I really want to see a Canadian Major Junior hockey game.

2. How did you first get involved in OpenStack?

I had never heard of OpenStack until I started applying to the GNOME Outreach Program for Women. It’s a program that gives women the opportunity to work on open source projects under the guidance of experienced mentors. I applied to several organizations, OpenStack being my top choice. Fortunately, I was accepted!

My background is in physics, and currently I’m transitioning into a software or data analytics career.  I applied to the internship program to get some software experience.  OpenStack is a great fit for me because I’m interested in things like backend, infrastructure, and heavy duty computations for science applications.  I also wrote a blog post that elaborates more on what attracted me to working on OpenStack.

I’ve been an intern for the past 3 months working on the Ceilometer component under the guidance of my fantastic mentor Julien Danjou, who was recently featured in Open Mic.  I’ve used lots of open source software, but I had no idea you could get paid for working on it.  I’m seriously thinking about a career in open source!

3. How did you learn to code? Are you self-taught or did you learn in college? On-the-job? 

It’s hard to remember exactly when I started.  I vaguely remember reading a LOGO program and typing it into the computer at elementary school. As a teenager, I took two summer programming classes in C and Pascal and a college level Pascal course in high school.  When I went to college at MIT, I was lucky enough to take the legendary Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs class taught in Scheme (a language similar to LISP). It was the best class I ever took in college and my first exposure to functional programming. Recently, MIT radically altered the course and switched the language to Python, which makes me sad because Scheme is such a unique and fun language. Nothing against Python, but there are so many learning materials for Python such that you can always pick that up later.  A few years ago, while I was still in physics graduate school, I took an online course with Software Carpentry, which introduced me to the basics of modern software development including version control, automation, and testing.

I’m aware that women are not proportionally represented in software, but I was really spoiled because I grew up in Silicon Valley and my parents insisted that I study technical subjects like math, science, and programming.  My family got our first computer when I was 13 and it was an Apple II GS.  I always thought coding was fun, and until I became an adult, I had no idea that there are women who are discouraged from coding. That’s how fortunate I’ve been. I hope we can increase the number of women who have the same experience as me.

4. What do you think OpenStack will be used for in 20 years, 50 years!?

I studied physics for a while, so my (biased) view is that OpenStack will become a widely-used platform for computational science. I hope that some of the great problems in neuroscience, genetics, condensed matter physics, etc will be solved on clusters running OpenStack. This isn’t so far fetched since CERN and Argonne National Laboratory are already using OpenStack for computational science. The Savanna Project is working on making it easy to “provision and manage Hadoop clusters on OpenStack”. Open source software is an essential tool for science, not just because of low cost but because it allows scientific knowledge to be readily shared and accessed by everyone. I’ve become very interested in the intersection of open source software and scientific research, after having volunteered at Software Carpentry bootcamps.

5. What are your tips or tricks for surviving jet lag or long conferences?

I don’t know about jet lag, but I like to bring my Nintendo DS Lite for long airport waits and transcontinental flights.  It has a super long battery life, so if my flight is delayed, no problem!  I can bury myself in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or Civilization Revolution.



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