October 20, 2010
This past summer Hampden-Sydney was in the forefront of intern experiences by providing "remote" internships for three of our computer science (CS) majors. The interns, Nathan Parr '11, Clay Parker '11 (right), and George Butler '12 (below-left) participated in a professional project for Advantor Systems Corporation while living and working on campus under the supervision and guidance of Professor Paul Hemler of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
The internships were made possible by Todd Flemming '85. Mr. Flemming is the President and CEO of Advantor Systems Corporation and Infrasafe, Inc. based in Orlando Florida. Infrasafe provides its governmental and military customers and Advantor provides its large business customers with a complete line of hi-tech security, authentication, and building/base entry, exit, and surveillance systems.
The interns developed a web-based application for Advantor's sales people and designers. The system automates and simplifies many of the tasks involved in developing an accurate configuration (quotation) for the complex systems Advantor designs, installs, and maintains. The new application moves away from a complicated and cluttered Excel spreadsheet approach to a clean looking interface that contains only the necessary information on different tabs. Various information displayed in tables on the different tabs expand and contract as components are added and deleted from the design. Different parts and price schedules are incorporated by having the application communicate with a networked database. All active quotations are also stored in the common database providing extremely rapid access to the information. The application also works in an "offline" mode, where a classified installation may not have network connectivity. When the application is again connected to the internet, the local version is synchronized to the networked database.
The idea and design of the application was provided by Advantor and presented to the Hampden-Sydney team as a professionally written Statement of Work (SOW). The team reviewed the SOW to understand precisely what the company was looking for.
With help from Chuck Perkinson, Vice President of Research and Development at Advantor, and Greg Hugo a designer at Advantor, the students began implementing the system as an AIR application using the FLEX language and MySQL as the database. "Our students had not been exposed to any of these programming environments in their CS curriculum but they learned what they needed to know rather quickly and made significant progress in a short period of time," said Professor Hemler.
The team frequently got together to discuss their progress, direction, and different issues they found challenging. After the initial learning, the team sent the company improved versions each week. We also had weekly conference calls with Chuck and Greg, who responded to the intern's questions and suggestions. Chuck was very pleased with the intern's progress and professionalism over the course of the project. "It was a pleasure working with these students and they produced a very impressive and useful application. I was not sure what to expect with a remote internship but in this case it worked out very well for us at Advantor."
Professor Hemler was also very pleased and satisfied with the remote-internship experience. "I have worked with many interns over the years but I am especially proud of these guys. They synergized together to learn and solve problems they had not been previously exposed to. They never complained and just dug into the work. In working with Advantor, the interns were exposed to the real-life work experience of a professional computer scientist and they performed admirable. I hope to continue this win-win-win scenario. The interns had a meaningful experience, the company finished some work it otherwise would not have completed, and the CS program and College benefited from the collaboration."