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My week at HP Labs Bristol


By John Gilbert, Wigmore School


John Gilbert is a student at Wigmore School in Herefordshire (UK) and about to enter year 11. He applied to do a weeklong work experience at HP Labs this summer. After taking his General Certificate of Secondary Education exams next year he plans to complete his Advanced Level exams in math and computer science  so that he can study computer science at university and start a career in computer programming.




On my first day of work experience at HP Labs, after arriving at the office, I was given the grand tour and introduced to many members of the research team. After lunch I met with Stuart, the network engineer, who showed me how the servers work using RAID, a technology that allows data to be stored in different places to improve performance. He then gave me an explanation of how fibre optic cables work, with light bouncing along smaller cables to travel a longer distance. He then explained how he can track security breaches back to the original computer.


On Tuesday I spent the morning with Patrick from the Security and Cloud Lab.  He explained how cloud computing works and what measures they have to take to keep it safe and secure and limit access so a single person cannot compromise the security of the data. He explained how the physical server is divided into multiple virtual server slices which can be distributed to multiple people. In the afternoon I met with Antonio who helped me learn some programming basics with Arduino, a single-board microcontroller, and how it can be programmed to connect to physical items, such as LEDs, sensors and motors. He set me up with an Arduino, some wires and sensors to work with over the week, and present back on what I had learned.


On my third day, I met with Chaz who works in the Advanced Development team. He explained that when you write a program you have to do more work on the software architecture than writing code. He showed me an example of a program which searches for files and people connected with those files. Then he explained how it is displayed as a diagram and how it can be worked on by multiple people. In the afternoon I met Mike, who works in the Malware Lab, a place of bring-your-laptop-in-here-and-we-will-nuke it and because of the contagious nature of the malware they are working with, you are not able to use your personal devices in the Lab. He also showed me what he was doing with Arduinos and his amazing LED cube and the animations it could do and then took me through the code he wrote for it which was incredible and quite confusing. This gave me some inspiration for my own programming project which I was working on throughout the week.


I spent Thursday working with Gareth from the Advanced Development team, who showed me how to set up a web server and client and write code which displays a website with a textbox and button. Then I had to write the code myself and send it to the server. This took a while but it was great to see the results when we got it working. On Friday I spent the morning working on my Arduino programming project. I managed to connect a light sensor, temperature and humidity sensor, microphone and motion sensor to it and wire it up (somewhat messily) so it all worked. I then had to present what I had done to a group of researchers from the Lab. It all worked well and afterwards I got to work with them on connecting two Arduinos together and sending data between them via a computer.


Overall I had a fantastic time at HP Labs and if I ever got the chance to work there again it would be absolutely perfect. I loved the whole atmosphere of the place and the way everyone was really friendly and was always willing to help.



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