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Meet our team: WestGrid developers have been busy behind the scenes

Over the last year, WestGrid has been adding developer expertise to its team in order to meet researchers' growing needs for specialized software and services that support their research projects.

WestGrid's developer team is led by Senior Developer Ikenna Okpala, who joined WestGrid in 2018 and has more than 12 years experience delivering projects in various sectors ranging from government to medical to e-commerce. A specialist in web development, he subscribes to agile, pair programming (where required), behaviour driven (BDD), DRY, progressive enhancement, and open source approachesPrior to joining WestGrid, Ikenna was Senior Software Engineer at Marks & Spencer (Venture labs) in the UK.

Earlier this month, WestGrid welcomed a second expert to its team when Steven Bucholtz was hired full-time as a Junior Developer. Prior to joining WestGrid, Steven has held various roles over the years including network analyst, web developer, and quality assurance engineer. Steven's first connected with WestGrid last summer, while he was acquiring a Bachelors in Computer Science, through a co-op position acquired via the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program.  

WestGrid has participated in the CSJ program for the last three years, placing 10 students in roles ranging from software and web development, to project  management and event / communications support.

The CSJ program is what has helped WestGrid's development team expand even further this summer, as students Courtney Gosselin and Devon MacNeil started with WestGrid in May as student developers. So far, it hasn't taken long for the team to gel, says Ikenna. 

"A lot of our work involves iterative improvements and so one of the main highlights of working with this team has been its collaborativeness," he says. "Also, Steven and the students bring lots of youthful energy to our projects, and everyone has a keen sense of learning."

Together, the team are building solutions that create, extend, implement, and maintain portals, scientific gateways, and advanced computing software tools and databases for researchers. Below is a quick look at some of their current projects.

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Precision health strategy ResistanceDB tool now live

In January 2018, WestGrid and Compute Canada announced a partnership with the University of Calgary and Calgary Laboratory Services (CLS) to develop a new strategy to combat infections. The program, called Precision Infection Management (PIM), is powered by a massive computer database, ResistanceDB, which is being hosted on Compute Canada's national platform. PIM will allow doctors to rapidly identify serious infections and stop them before they develop into life-threatening conditions.

WestGrid has contributed key members of its regional team — from database architects to senior programmers to data security experts — to meet the needs of this leading-edge project in genomics and precision health. Ikenna has been leading much of WestGrid's development work on this project, including negotiating a number of the challenges related to requirements gathering and prioritisation.  

The project has reached a major milestone with the launch of its website and an online gateway to access the ResistanceDB (http://resistancedb.org/moc).

"The main benefit of ResistanceDB is the tool that will help analyse mzXML files using a machine learning algorithm," says Ikenna. "It's a very exciting project."

New Compute Canada systems status page under development

Currently, five national datacentres comprise the Compute Canada national platform:

  • Arbutus at the University of Victoria
  • Cedar at Simon Fraser University
  • Graham at the University of Waterloo
  • Niagara at the University of Toronto
  • Béluga at the École de technologie supérieure

Users across the country rely on these powerful supercomputers to support their research, ranging in disciplines as diverse as computational criminology, chemistry, aerospace engineering, medicine, and analysis of great works of fiction. A centralized systems status page has been in operation at http://status.computecanada.ca/ for the last two years, but Ikenna has working on a revamp that would update and extend the page's functionality. 

"Researchers using Compute Canada's platforms benefit from the live updates provided by this tool," says Ikenna. "This status page helps researchers plan for system maintenance periods and be notifed of unplanned outages, which is particularly important if they need to re-start their jobs on the system. It's an important tool for keeping our user community informed about these systems activities and performance." 

A launch date for the new system status page has yet to be confirmed. 

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When not focused on the example projects listed above, WestGrid's development team are working on projects ranging in scope from improving Compute Canada's user database features and functionality, to helping implement national Globus filesharing services, to deploying cloud-based platforms that enable international research collaborations.

To learn more about these projects and other work by WestGrid's developers, contact us at info@westgrid.ca.