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Rice University | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

What can I say?

There are thousands of different roles here at CERN, and my role this summer is coding.  I work specifically on the Pixel detector.  This essential part of CMS tracks the movement of charged particles passing through the silicon that comprises the Pixel detector.  The specifics of how this works are rather interesting, and also rather complicated, but I’ll focus more on my role.

The developers of the Pixel detector have written code that automatically calibrates and configures the system.  This code varies the multitude of different settings, evaluates the performance of the Pixel detector under these settings, determines which of these provide the best results, and then configures the detector accordingly.  I have been asked by my advisor, Dr. Karl Ecklund, to add code to this calibration process.

Now, I have little experience coding.  Before completing my undergraduate education I worked for 5+ years at a high tech company.  During my years there I worked very closely with developers to resolve software problems.  However, regardless of how much I desired at the time to assist with writing code, they thought it best to allow the highly trained professionals do that part of the work.  That is not the case here at CERN, and perhaps is one of CERN’s most amazing attributes.

I have been given a task, one that I felt under-qualified for when I arrived.  Over the past month I have learned, little by little, the skills and tools necessary to complete my task.  I’m not quite all the way there yet, but I am getting closer each day.  I liken this experience to the “sink or swim” method of teaching.  Sometimes I feel like I am sinking, I might have even drowned once or twice.  Other times I feel like I am soaring, although a new problem surfaces that sends me plummeting back towards the water.  Regardless, I am learning more about the ins and outs of coding in mere months, then I did in five years at a software development company.  All of this has been possible due to the culture here at CERN.

I must say I am enjoying my time here, and I am learning many new things.  The landscapes that surround CERN are quite amazing, and Geneva is a pretty nice city (though I don’t spend much time there).  The people I’ve met are friendly, and having the opportunity to explore different places in Europe is wonderful.   I won’t say that I don’t miss home, but who needs a Texas summer anyway?

James Zabel

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