CS Students Enlist: Facebook Open Academy

10-24-2014
Writer(s): Jesica E. Hollinger

Six CS students traveled to Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA., where they gathered for a weekend of learning and hacking – all part of the Facebook Open AcademyThe Facebook Open Academy is a program that works closely with key faculty members (at top CS universities) to launch a course that matches students with active open source projects and mentors, along with academic credit for their contributions to the open source code base.

The Academy helps new participants evaluate what to contribute, how to submit a patch, and how to find a mentor. Open source mentors support their teams by helping students find and understand tasks and review code contributions. The e-course instructors meet with student teams at regular intervals to review progress.

Kaiwen Xu, senior in computer science, said the course helps students learn real-world software engineering skills that aren’t taught in the classroom.

“The projects in this course are way more challenging than any other courses in various aspects,” Xu said. “This course provides an opportunity and platform for us to engage in the open source community, and learn about how the popular open source projects work.”

Gustavo Rodriguez-Riviera, instructor of the course, says he enjoys teaching the class, because the work the students contribute ultimately has an impact on those who use open source projects directly or indirectly.

“HHVM is one of the open source projects the students are working on and has a "just in time compiler" which allows running PHP with a speedup that is 2 to 10 times faster than the original implementation of PHP. HHVM is used in popular sites like Facebook and Wikipedia,” Rodriguez-Riviera said. “The work the students are doing in this project will benefit millions of people who use these websites.”

He also added that students are working on other projects, including Prediction IO, a framework that allows giving user recommendations, and AMD, a symbolic matrix differentiation package.

Alicia Lim, senior in computer science, said that the course gives students a glimpse of what it is like to work in the tech industry.

“Having the chance to participate in larger scale projects, I managed to learn a few debugging skills and testing a huge program that is written by someone else,” Lim said. “I also learned how software engineers (in the industry) organize their schedules to work remotely with other teams and team members, since most of them are often busy and away from the office.”

Facebook AcademyCS students participating in the academy this year include: Wuwei Zhang; Alicia Lim; Kaiwen Xu; Rendong Chen; Matthew Gotteiner, and In Hwan Lee.