An intern's views - How far have I come?


AKA, what the hell about work? I have gone on and on about getting here. The things I found here. But I have still made no mention of what I do here. Well, here it is. So sit back, and read on.

  1. An intern's views - How I got here
  2. An intern's views - A month's end at Google
  3. An intern's views - How far have I come?
  4. An intern's views - End of diary

In case you haven't read the last article, you might want to.

So where were we? Oh yeah, end of orientation (week 1). So, after week 1, interns actually start working in full force. Now, the command structure is something like this - I'm an intern. I have a host who is responsible for hosting my project. He is primary reviewer on all my code, and my main point of contact in case of any problems. Apart from my host, I have a second reviewer, who is basically the person who has worked on similar stuff before and is in the best position to help me deploy my code.

Above them is our manager, and then more managers above him (in a nutshell).

So what do I work on? Hmmm.. I am not sure if I'm allowed to say yet? This blog article describes my project pretty well: Introducing Sandboxfs

Anyway, I am in the Blaze team. Blaze is the internal name for Bazel (https://bazel.build). To understand what Blaze is, first let's jog your memory. Which names do you recognize?

  • Make (Makefile)
  • Ant
  • Maven
  • CMake
  • Gradle

All the above mentioned are build tools, and they all work on a similar concept. You have a build configuration, and they try to build the project by minimizing the work done. For example, if only one file has changed, they'd try not to build the whole project again, but just that one file. Now as projects become complicated, these tools become inefficient, and slowly more and more incompetent. Google has all their source code in one huge repository (really really huge), and code can take hours to build on parallel running machine clusters. These tools can neither handle such complexity, nor the functionality required for such a thing.

This is where Bazel (Blaze) comes in. Blaze is the build tool used by every project in Google. It is what builds tens of thousands of projects everyday. Now, Bazel is the open source version of Blaze, which other people can use in their projects, but is mostly used by other companies (like Dropbox), who have such huge requirements.

If you are in a CS related field, you would've heard the term "correctness" thrown around a lot. Proof of correctness of algorithms? Correctness in multi threaded systems? Anyway, the main aim for a build tool is to ensure that the build output is always correct (deterministic). Thus, the changing circumstances should not change the build. For example, if a project A does not depend on project B, then whether or not you have B installed should not have an effect on build of A.

One important way to ensure correctness is to sandbox the compiler. This basically means to remove anything that might affect the build, except for the dependencies declared by the programmer. Now this can be quite slow to do for 1000s of parallel builds, having 10,000s of dependencies. The current approach can take up to 300% extra time for a build with sandboxing enabled than disabled for some projects with a lot of dependencies. My project is a completely different (and hopefully fast) approach to solving this.

Back to working at Google; how does the work feel? One word - challenging. I take up problems quickly, I can code fast, I can even understand libraries, APIs faster than people expect me too. But I was not prepared for this. I don't think I'm the only one who felt this way. My friends, who are interning at Google or even other big companies felt the same. Programming in a company is not the same as programming projects as a hobby.

What am I talking about? Code Reviews, Lints, Style Guides. Writing code for Google is not the same as writing code for oneself. Your code needs to work, but that is low priority (okay, not really). Anybody reading your code should be able to understand what it does, and that's high priority. I'm not complaining, I have learnt more about writing "good" code in the last two months than I did in years coding by myself. However, I am going on this rant because I want whoever is reading this, to realise that if you are in college right now, you have a wonderful opportunity to learn to write "good" code.

What are code reviews? Code reviews are comments on your code, asking you to fix problems (that you didn't even think were present) using alternatives you would've never come up with yourself. Frankly, the first time around, code reviews feel something like this:

For the record, I made that meme for memegen after I finally got my first pull request (or change list) accepted. It got 850+ upvotes, so I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who felt this way.

Hmmm... Memes should be standard way of getting a point across. Memegen is full of memes about "Intern's first pull request", because it is a standard scene. Intern comes, confident, writes a bunch of code, sends it for review, and BAM! 40+ comments on the code. Been there, done that. My first pull request (~400 lines) had over 90 comments and was finally submitted after 2 weeks when I had managed to please all the reviewers by fixing every problem.

Why am I writing about all this? Do I still feel the pain? Well, yes, but a lot less than I originally did. After the code reviews, the code actually does look a lot better. It also gives a sense of inferiority, that takes time getting used to. At my college, there are a total of 2 people who can make me feel inferior (in programming). At Google, every second employee manages to do it with ease. We were told in our orientation that almost 70% of the Googlers have felt that they don't belong here due to inferiority complex at some point in their lives. But then a Googler comes along and asks for my help in area he doesn't have any experience in, and the feeling goes away. These people aren't all superior, they have just been working among the best too long.

Best part of working at Google? The Googlers. Not only are the people here brilliant at what they do, I have actually met some of the most down to Earth people here. And the benefit of working with the best people? I have a doubt in Go; the Go team sits 6 rows from my desk. I need help implementing something? I bet at least 3 people in the 50 step radius have done it before. Can't remember the name of that one spaceship from Star Trek? I'm pretty sure 1 out of 5 people here know that too. I don't even need to Google my doubts that often because somebody can usually clear them up (yeah, I can see the irony).

I know most of you don't care about how my project is going, but I'm going to put it here anyway :P It's going well, and I had a fairly nice mid-term review. I'm currently pushing hard to get the project released as open source (lots of legal issues to solve in the way). Finger crossed :D

So, any regrets? Yes, from back at college. I really wish somebody had told me about all this. Told me that the programming as I know it, isn't exactly how it's done in real life. I wish I had had someone read all my codes, just to see if they can understand it. I wish I had an expert nit-picking on my codes just so having that now wouldn't be so surprising.

Next steps? I like to help out others, so let's hope I can help a few people avoid this shock. For now, mandatory code reviews on Programming Club IITK repositories, adding test suites and continuous integration to important projects and planning lectures on just these topics.

Doubt? Question? Suggestion? I think the comment panel below works :)

Next in series: An intern's views - End of diary


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pallav Agarwal Image
My name is Pallav Agarwal. I am a recent graduate of the department of Computer Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India. I love experimenting with tech, and this blog is a way for me to give a little helping hand to other's who are like me (but don't know it yet).

I am ambitious, intelligent, competitve (sometimes too much), loyal and brutally honest. People I respect the most are teachers, which is partially why I myself like to teach too. Apart from programming, I also like travelling, adventure sports and trying new food items. If you like a post, have a query, or just want to chit-chat, let me know here