Welcome to UCOSP!

UCOSP is a program that brings together students from across Canada to work together on open source projects. Students learn how open source software development takes place, practice distributed development, and have the opportunity to work on project with knowledgeable industry or faculty mentors on software with real users.

Aug 4, 2016 - Getting Ready for the Fall term

Planning is in full swing for the fall term. Students and faculty are definitely thinking about September. Looking at our registration form we already have about half the number of students we expect signed up and more are starting to roll in.

Our fall code sprint will be held at the Mozilla offices in downtown Toronto. Their community space is a great place to work, and Mike Hoye and his team are excellent hosts.

We are still finalizing the list of projects. We have more turnover this year than usual, but the potential new projects looks very interesting. Longtime projects MarkUs, ReviewBoard, and Umple will be back, and I’ll post descriptions of the new projects as soon as they are available.

May 30, 2016 - New Look and Year in Review

Year in Review

We had another great year with UCOSP, thanks to the generous sponsorship from Google and the support of the CACS/AIC.

Thirty-five students attended the September code sprint in Vancouver at the beautiful UBC campus. Our wonderful long term project mentors once again created a great experience for our students. We welcomed back ReviewBoard, Formulize, BB 10/Phonegap, MarkUs, and Umple.

We were thrilled to welcome back Dethe Elza with Waterbear, and Jim Parry with CodeIgniter. Both Dethe and Jim live in the Vancouver area which made it possible for them to supervise a project this term. We also welcomed another local, Sam Davis mentoring the Mylyn project.

Mozilla once again hosted the Toronto code sprint in January in their beautiful community space. Along with returning projects Reviewboard, MarkUs, Formulize and Umple, we were joined by two Mozilla-based projects: Jupyter Notebook and Code Coverage. Mark Reid and Joel Maher and their colleagues were naturals at mentoring students, and it was a real pleasure to work them.

After several years of working Tim Windsor on the Blackberry/Phonegap projects we were sad not to have him back in January. We hope that his love of open source software will bring him back on a different project in the future.


It was a year of changes and time to reflect. Schools across North America have seen dramatic increases CS program enrolments. This was evident in the larger numbers of students applying to UCOSP. For example, at the Univeristy of Toronto we had 75 students apply for 8 UCOSP spots. There is clearly a demand for the kind of practical learning experience that UCOSP provides. While we plan to support a slightly larger number of students next year, we are limited by funding and organizational overhead costs.

On the otherhand we also had two schools decide not to send students this year, at least partly because they were not able to find faculty to supervise the students. Increasing enrolments at our universities means that faculty have less time for the “extras”.

Fortunately, we have not had difficulty finding interested open source projects. We saw a higher turnover in projects this year, but we have also had cold call inquiries about how a project might be included in the program. For the record, we are looking for some new projects for next year.

Another change is the makeup of the steering committee. Michelle is stepping down from the steering committee for a well-earned sabbatical. Karen Reid will be chairing the committee for the next year. Rob Walker from the University of Calgary is joining the steering committee. Meghan Allen, Ted Kirkpatrick, and Eleni Stroulia continue to serve on the committee.

New Look

We decided to move the web site over to github.io, partly to save a bit of money on web hosting, but mostly to make it easier to add posts and maintain the archive of information. You can still reach us at info@ucosp.ca

Mar 24, 2016 - Jupyter Notebook – UCOSP 2016 – Recap

– Adam Wong

Hey everyone, now that I am halfway through my UCOSP project, I would like to take some time to reflect and share some of my experiences. I have had the honor of working with three other talented students from the University of British Columbia as well as with two friendly and intelligent Mozilla employees in the Jupyter Notebook project.

So what exactly is a Jupyter Notebook, and why should you really care?
Well, the Jupyter Notebook is an electronic document that can contain Python code as well as flexible human-readable text such as paragraphs, comments, figures, equations, etc. The code within these documents can be executed and analyzed.

One of the main challenges I have overcome during this experience so far is learning to function within and adapting to the somewhat distributed working environment. Previous assignments I’ve worked on were with a local team of developers usually in person. People could be called or messaged and then ideas could be bounced off each other on whiteboards, over a cup of coffee or even on the same computer.

This new approach has team members all over Canada working together (British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia) as well as internationally (England). The first and most obvious obstacle is that with each different area, there is a different time zone. When scheduling meetings or Skype calls, it is common to find a reasonable time, taking into consideration the up-to-nine-hour time difference. Outside of these scheduled weekly meetings, we often find ourselves communicating via IRC or Skype, both platforms which I am familiar with.

The Jupyter Project uses many different technologies – some I have used before and others not so much. The languages include JavaScript and Python – the former I have used for mere hours (but am currently learning) and the latter I have not used since my first year. Ramping up was a significant challenge, as the time spent studying syntax and language structure put me even further behind my teammates. I often felt like the least useful member of the team as the other students were much better versed in the aforementioned technologies. In spite of this, however, after the initial ramping period I felt much more comfortable working on this project.

You might be asking, “Well I know what the notebooks are, so what is your team doing?” Our team is currently working on various add-ons for the Jupyter Notebook – extensions that will be released open-source and accessible to the public.

The first project was a simple extension that would allow Jupyter Notebook files to be uploaded to GitHub’s gist platform. Specifically, the content from the Notebook (code and text) would be uploaded to the authenticated user’s GitHub account via OAuth2 for safe keeping. During our Toronto code sprint in January, we laid down the foundation for this extension. The main goal for the meeting was to successfully implement a new button in the JavaScript front-end, and to link it to the Python back-end server (where the Jupyter Notebook was running) for processing. Knowing I had limited knowledge in JavaScript at the time, I took it upon myself to handle much of the back-end Python code instead. As I had previously studied OAuth2 in a Computer Security class at my university (ECE568), most of the APIs were familiar. For those that don’t know, OAuth2 is a protocol used by a client (our server acts as a client to GitHub) and a server (the GitHub server offering the OAuth2 service) to allow secure access to an authenticated user’s private information. Specifically, the user is redirected to GitHub, where they specify which services to allow us (the client) to use. After authentication, GitHub will then comply with our requests (in this case, uploading the notebook contents as a Gist) on the user’s behalf. After sifting through the many pages of the GitHub API documentation, I was able to independently implement the handshaking and authentication process between GitHub and our server. However, I got stuck with formatting the notebook content which was formatted in JSON. After spending several hours trying to figure out why my GitHub call would return with a ‘404’ error, I was at a loss. At that point, knowing nothing about JavaScript or JSON, sought out help from my teammates who were eager to jump in and lend a hand. Turns out there is a bizarre function call in JavaScript called “JSON.stringify” that ended up solving my issue. With the whole team working together, we were able to get the extension out and it is now available via ‘pip’ or at https://github.com/mozilla/jupyter-notebook-gist.

Our second extension was an add-on for Apache Spark integration. Apache Spark is a framework for cluster computing – a system where distributed machines can be used together to perform large computations. It is very useful when data processing, something that Mozilla would definitely use to process large volumes of Firefox usage information. If, within the Jupyter Notebook, an Apache Spark job was ongoing, we wanted to provide a progress bar. Unfortunately this task had just gotten off the ground as the university’s Reading Week began, and I had already made plans to be out of the country. I kept tabs on the progress (IRC) during that week, but sadly did not have time to make significant contributions. Upon return, I tried to quickly ramp up, but to little avail. Apache Spark does not like to run on native Windows, so I installed VirtualBox with Ubuntu 15.04 to get it working. Only after much debugging and installing, did I realize that all the tasks for the Apache project were taken and/or in progress by another team member. The feeling of insignificance returned, but after expressing my concern to the Mozilla team lead, he mentioned that it might be better to get started on the next project which would soon be fleshed out and discussed. At the end of our meeting, he mentioned someone around the office was looking for C++ assistance, which is my area of expertise so I will definitely follow up on that as soon as possible.

That pretty much sums up where I am now at currently in the project. I definitely enjoy working with everyone, and my mentors are very intelligent, open and approachable individuals. I feel like working in an open-source environment provides me with unrestricted access to the world’s knowledge, and even someone like myself can share everything that I have learned. Being able to see people happily using what I have worked on is such an amazing pleasure and honor for me, as a software developer. I hope that I will be able to continue to make a difference both in the Jupyter Notebook project, and in future endeavours.

While UCOSP will soon come to a close, the journey into the world of open-source is a never ending road of exploration, learning and sharing. Mozilla is a wonderful company with many wonderful people. It would be a dream to be given opportunities to work with them in the future.