BU Spark! and the Collaboratory


Red Hat partners with BU Spark! through a number of student-facing programs and initiatives aimed at inspiring technical innovation, creativity, and inclusion. Red Hat and BU Spark! collaborations include the Engineer in Residence Program, the UXD Program, the Red Hat Mentoring Program, a Fundamentals Course & Bootcamp, the Boston University Open Source Software Initiative (BOSSI), various diversity and inclusion initiatives in open source communities, and engagement with student clubs and hackathons.

Engineer in Residence

In Spring 2019, Spark! launched the Red Hat Engineer in Residence (EIR) program. The Red Hat EIR program allows uniquely qualified Red Hat employees the ability to gain deeper connections with the BU computing community while also providing critical capacity in implementing the priorities of BU’s strategic programs.

The EIR program is structured as a six month to one-year engagement comprised of one to two days per week in the office. The program offers Red Hat an opportunity for deep proximity to faculty, program staff, and students; this access facilitates the identification and pursuit of valuable collaboration opportunities while also engaging in immediate projects with concrete benefits. The EIR program also provides a rewarding and morale boosting experience for high performing Red Hat associates. The flexible structure of the program allows for customization based on the continuously evolving priorities of Red Hat and BU and the specific skills and interests of the proposed EIR(s). Currently, the program is structured around three core activities:

  • Signature Project
  • Curricular Engagement
  • Student and Community Connections
    • For example: office hours, mentoring, engaging students in Red Hat (RH) events, attending BU computing events, delivering talks or workshops, meeting with faculty, etc…

In the Spring of 2019, Langdon White, Principal Software Engineer, and Christine Flood, Senior Principal Software Engineer, served as BU Spark!’s first Engineers in Residence.

Christine’s core activities, with the support of student interns, were structured primarily around her signature project which gave her a unique opportunity to combine her avocation with her vocation. Christine’s signature project was an open source, domain-specific language for articulating textile patterns which could then be “compiled” for auto-looms and printable directions. Christine also participated in Spark!’s end-of-semester Demo Day where participating students and faculty demonstrate their work to the broader computing and data science community.

In a short amount of time, Langdon has become a well-known signature member amongst affiliated faculty and students in the Hariri and BU Spark! communities. Langdon’s EIR experience has involved several different activities including the following:

  • Signature Project:
    • Launching the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Open Source Research Project
  • Curricular Engagement:
    • Co-Teaching the Spark! Practicum
    • Launching the new CS200 Software Engineering Foundations Workshop
  • Student and Community Engagements:
    • Launching the Boston University Open Source Software Initiative (BOSSI)
    • Supporting PreHacks and TechTogether – hackathons aimed at empowering young women and non-binary individuals in computing
    • Office Hours for students and faculty

Langdon was instrumental in conversations with the Computer Science Department Chair concerning the development of a new 2-credit software engineering fundamentals course that launched in the Spring of 2020. We would welcome the opportunity to keep Langdon involved given the success he has experienced integrating widely across the Boston University ecosystem. Langdon remarks, “Initially when I approached the EIR program with BU my goal was just to further the relationship between Red Hat and BU. However, as I got more engaged I discovered that access to students and computer science faculty offered new perspectives on how technical people use their computers. Those insights have had a great impact on my work in Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I also discovered how enjoyable it is to be surrounded by a community of civically and socially minded people who want to make the world a better place through the use of technology.”

From the perspective of BU, the EIR program has been wildly successful in helping BU Spark! respond to overwhelming growth in demand for its programming. We believe Red Hat has also benefited from opportunities to facilitate and strengthen relationships with faculty, expand curricular engagement, deepen access to students, and launch several initiatives that will advance awareness about open source practices.

If you want to join the Red Hat/ Spark! EIR program, please email us at buspark@bu.edu

UXD Program

The User Experience Design (UXD) Fellowship launched in the Fall of 2018 and focuses primarily on students from the Graphic Design discipline at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts/School of Visual Arts. The partnership with Red Hat includes a series of workshops led by Red Hat UXD team members and mentoring where members of Red Hat’s UXD team are matched with students participating in the Spark! UXD Fellowship program. For Boston University, the key benefits of this program include the opportunity to help BU students build their skills in user experience design, front end development, and interactive visual design. BU does not currently have a program focused on UXD although this is something actively being planned as a joint endeavor between the Computer Science and Graphic Design Departments. The workshops offered thus far have covered diverse topics including a UXD Bootcamp, Wireframing Clinic, and an Introduction to Patternfly.

Red Hat Mentoring Program

Since the Fall of 2017, Red Hat has supported the BU Spark! Program by providing guest speakers and mentors to students participating in the BU Spark! Innovation Fellows Program. The BU Spark! Innovation Fellows program provides student teams with a structured experience to pursue a project of their own creation over the course of one semester culminating in an end-of-semester Demo Day. A subset of these students has the opportunity to continue working on their projects beyond the semester commitment as “continuing fellows”.

Our mentors from Red Hat largely remark that the mentorship facilitated between their designers and our students is a positively unmatched experience. One Red Hat mentor remarks, “BU Spark! is a wonderful and engaging opportunity for students to experience project and group based work that is very much rooted in problems solving. It helps students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real world design problems and come up with solutions collaboratively.”

If you want to mentor with BU Spark! you can sign up here: https://tinyurl.com/mentorfall2020

CS200: Fundamentals Course & Bootcamp

In the Spring of 2020, Spark! and Red Hat launched a two-credit software engineering foundations course and curriculum. The curriculum is designed as a 75 minute once per week program. The intensive program is aimed at closing the software engineering skills gap and, with an inclusion lens in mind, is aimed at targeting women and under-represented minorities with a desire to deepen their knowledge of software engineering practices. With 90% female enrollment, our inaugural semester validated our hypothesis that there was demand for this type of program, particularly amongst women computer science students. The course offers instruction in topics such as git, test driven development, open source, debugging, and more.

BOSSI: Boston University Open Source Software Initiative

In the Spring and Summer of 2019, EIR Langdon White, working closely with Spark!, collaborated with a number of students to launch BOSSI. One project housed under BOSSI and the D&I Open Source Initiative (ossdi) is one called, Main Streets, the project’s software is being used to understand business impact on a number of nearby businesses. Several more projects are lined up including a diagnostic coding challenge program that will help BU Spark! and many other entities complete the first stage of technical evaluations for student applicants.

Diversity & Inclusion in Open Source Communities

In the Spring of 2019, Red Hat and Spark! launched a team to advance the upstream community created to address issues related to diversity and inclusion in open source. The collaboration started with a Research Scoping Workshop to brainstorm a broad research agenda and prioritize a project to serve as an initial proof of concept. Student Research Teams were recruited for the Spring and Summer semesters to work under the supervision of the Red Hat Engineers in Residence to advance the project. The team has integrated with the open source effort, CHAOSS, that covers D&I as well as many other metrics.

Student Clubs and Hackathons

BU Spark! provides a channel for ongoing collaboration with student clubs including their major events and hackathons. There are currently 24 computing student clubs participating in the Ignite Student Council managed by BU Spark!, Red Hat continues to be a lead sponsor at many of the club hackathons including BostonHacks and TechTogether. This support elevates the reputation of the organization among students and contributes to the goodwill that factors into their career decisions. The event sponsorship currently falls outside of the Collaboratory funding and is brokered directly with the clubs. However, Red Hat has channeled other support directed to clubs including the training and hosting of events through the Spark! Ignite Council.  In previous semesters, Rebecca Fernandez, Red Hat’s Principal Program Manager of Open Organization led a training for club leaders on Open Source Decision Making.

Additional Information

Please visit  BU Spark! for additional information or email us directly if you want to get involved or have ideas for collaborative opportunities involving students at BUspark@bu.edu.