Interview with a Pythonista

For our University of Hawai`i at Hilo CS294 Python class we were asked to find someone who uses Python code at their job and ‘charm’ them into a short-answer ten-minute phone interview as part of a ‘mentors coding habits and advice’ blog.

Gemini_at_sunsetWhat follows is my interview with Chris Stark who is an Information Systems Engineer for the Gemini Observatory, which has a pair of 8.1m world-class telescopes with Gemini North, located on the summit of Manua Kea and Gemini South, located near the summit of Cerro Pachon in central Chile.  Chris works out of the Gemini North’s base facilities here in Hilo, Hawai`i.  Because Chris is also a big coffee fan, we met at St. Arbucks where he graciously offered his suggestions and know-how for the bargain price of a Tall black coffee.

Q >>> When did you first hear about Python?
A >>> I first learned about Python in the late 90’s when I was working as a Web Developer.

db >>> What programming languages did you know before learning any Python?
cs >>> I mainly used Perl (for code maintenance), PHP, C and some Basic.

db >>> Were there any particular books, classes, or online instructional courses you took in order to teach yourself Python?
cs >>> I used an O’Reilly book on Python to begin teaching myself the language.

db >>> What do you see as the main strengths of Python as a programming language?
cs >>> Its straightforward syntax, its scripting capabilities, and its development process time.

db >>> What weaknesses of limitations have you personally found within Python?
cs >>> People talk about speed issues when they mention Python but I personally haven’t experienced any of those issues with the things I use Python for. Python is faster than a shell script.

db >>> What is the most complex use of Python you have seen at Gemini?
cs >>> The Quality Assessment of the Data Pipeline used by the astronomers at Gemini.

db >>> Has Gemini switched to any open-source software moving away from things proprietary like Subaru has?
cs >>> Gemini migrated from Sun Solaris to Linux.

db >>> Do you use any simple Python scripts to automate any of you day-to-day tasks either at work or at home?
cs >>> I use it daily at Gemini for simple queries as well as for any task that is repeated more than once. At home, I use Python in my own weather station and for tracking the efficiency of our solar panels

db >>> On to something more controversial; What text editor do you use?
cs >>> [Laughing] Vim.

db >>> What does Gemini use for version tracking?
cs >>> Subversion…often abbreviated SVN, after the command name svn.

db >>> What extra skills would you suggest students to acquire who want to work for an observatory?
cs >>> Being comfortable in Linux, troubleshooting skills, being able to write a shell script, and being conscious about security.

Coffee_OwlBig mahalo’s Chris!

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