Swat Computer Society Takes the Stage for Research

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

A few members of the Swarthmore College Computer Society (SCCS) will be among only a handful undergrads at LISA, a leading computer system administration conference this December. While some students will busily preparing for finals, members of SCCS will be presenting their very own published paper to an audience that will include people from the likes of Google and Facebook. LISA, which stands for Large Installation System Administration Conference, will take place in San Diego.

SCCS provides computer services such as running mailing lists and providing web hosting for Swarthmore students and faculty. Last year, they designed and implemented new software infrastructure to improve the handling of these tasks. The software is called a Grand Unified Task System, though SCCS prefers to shorten the name to GUTS.

“It was fun to call it GUTS since it really is the guts of the SCCS,” SCCS Staff Member Nick Felt ‘13 said.

“This system was developed from the bottom up, completely geared toward our set up. It’s becoming more modular.” said co-author Daniel Feist-Alexandrov ’15. GUTS will make it easier to add new features to the services SCCS provides, such as the ability for students to change their Cygnet photos themselves.

Not to miss an opportunity, the students–including Felt, Feist-Alexandrov, Rebecca Roelofs ’13, Steve Dini ’13, Allen Welkie ’13, and a handful of alumni–thought it might be a good idea to write a paper on GUTS and its design. The hosts of the LISA Conference clearly agreed.

“We’re hoping that other people will find [GUTS] interesting enough to maybe take it on themselves,” Feist-Alexandrov said.

While none of the authors of the paper had written anything like it in the past, SCCS did win a Best Student Paper award at the same conference in 2002. That paper was based on work SCCS did with the GUTS’ predecessor software.

This time around, the authors were really blazing their own trail. They didn’t even have an advising professor. The members spent many late nights in the CS lab over pizza, splitting up the work, based on areas of expertise.

“There were lots of times where the whiteboard would be so covered with diagrams and arrows, we had to take pictures of the whiteboard,” Felt said.

“We submitted it 10 minutes before the deadline; it was a classic Swarthmore paper. We had a great time writing it– the final push was a good laugh,” Feist-Alexandrov said.

After receiving positive feedback, the SCCS were notified in late July that their paper had been selected for publication and that they were invited to give a 30-minute presentation at the conference. Felt and Feist-Alexandrov will be giving that presentation.

“It’s very rare to have undergraduates be invited to talk. It was really cool to find out. I called my parents immediately and told them about being accepted, ” Roelofs said. She served as the corresponding editor, communicating with representatives from LISA. Roelofs said SCCS is one of only two student groups that will be in attendance. The other is from Dartmouth.

“It’s really nice to feel like we worked on a project that could be useful not only to people at Swarthmore but interesting for the broader world,” Felt said.

Featured image courtesy of SCCS


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