The Apache Software Foundation Blog

Monday February 05, 2018

Success at Apache: A Newbie’s Narrative

by Kuhu Shukla

As I sit at my desk on a rather frosty morning with my coffee, looking up new JIRAs from the previous day in the Apache Tez project, I feel rather pleased. The latest community release vote is complete, the bug fixes that we so badly needed are in and the new release that we tested out internally on our many thousand strong cluster is looking good. Today I am looking at a new stack trace from a different Apache project process and it is hard to miss how much of the exceptional code I get to look at every day comes from people all around the globe. A contributor leaves a JIRA comment before he goes on to pick up his kid from soccer practice while someone else wakes up to find that her effort on a bug fix for the past two months has finally come to fruition through a binding +1.

Yahoo – which joined AOL, HuffPost, Tumblr, Engadget, and many more brands to form the Verizon subsidiary Oath last year – has been at the frontier of open source adoption and contribution since before I was in high school. So while I have no historical trajectories to share, I do have a story on how I found myself in an epic journey of migrating all of Yahoo jobs from Apache MapReduce to Apache Tez, a then new DAG based execution engine.

Oath grid infrastructure is through and through driven by Apache technologies be it storage through HDFS, resource management through YARN, job execution frameworks with Tez and user interface engines such as Hive, Hue, Pig, Sqoop, Spark, Storm. Our grid solution is specifically tailored to Oath's business-critical data pipeline needs using the polymorphic technologies hosted, developed and maintained by the Apache community.

On the third day of my job at Yahoo in 2015, I received a YouTube link on An Introduction to Apache Tez. I watched it carefully trying to keep up with all the questions I had and recognized a few names from my academic readings of Yarn ACM papers. I continued to ramp up on YARN and HDFS, the foundational Apache technologies Oath heavily contributes to even today. For the first few weeks I spent time picking out my favorite (necessary) mailing lists to subscribe to and getting started on setting up on a pseudo-distributed Hadoop cluster. I continued to find my footing with newbie contributions and being ever more careful with whitespaces in my patches. One thing was clear – Tez was the next big thing for us. By the time I could truly call myself a contributor in the Hadoop community nearly 80-90% of the Yahoo jobs were now running with Tez. But just like hiking up the Grand Canyon, the last 20% is where all the pain was. Being a part of the solution to this challenge was a happy prospect and thankfully contributing to Tez became a goal in my next quarter.

The next sprint planning meeting ended with me getting my first major Tez assignment – progress reporting. The progress reporting in Tez was non-existent – "Just needs an API fix,"  I thought. Like almost all bugs in this ecosystem, it was not easy. How do you define progress? How is it different for different kinds of outputs in a graph? The questions were many.

I, however, did not have to go far to get answers. The Tez community actively came to a newbie's rescue, finding answers and posing important questions. I started attending the bi-weekly Tez community sync up calls and asking existing contributors and committers for course correction. Suddenly the team was much bigger, the goals much more chiseled. This was new to anyone like me who came from the networking industry, where the most open part of the code are the RFCs and the implementation details are often hidden. These meetings served as a clean room for our coding ideas and experiments. Ideas were shared, to the extent of which data structure we should pick and what a future user of Tez would take from it. In between the usual status updates and extensive knowledge transfers were made. 

Oath uses Apache Pig and Apache Hive extensively and most of the urgent requirements and requests came from Pig and Hive developers and users. Each issue led to a community JIRA and as we started running Tez at Oath scale, new feature ideas and bugs around performance and resource utilization materialized. Every year most of the Hadoop team at Oath travels to the Hadoop Summit where we meet our cohorts from the Apache community and we stand for hours discussing the state of the art and what is next for the project. One such discussion set the course for the next year and a half for me.

We needed an innovative way to shuffle data. Frameworks like MapReduce and Tez have a shuffle phase in their processing life cycle wherein the data from upstream producers is made available to downstream consumers. Even though Apache Tez was designed with a feature set corresponding to optimization requirements in Pig and Hive, the Shuffle Handler Service was retrofitted from MapReduce at the time of the project's inception. With several thousands of jobs on our clusters leveraging these features in Tez, the Shuffle Handler Service became a clear performance bottleneck. So as we stood talking about our experience with Tez with our friends from the community, we decided to implement a new Shuffle Handler for Tez. All the conversation points were tracked now through an umbrella JIRA TEZ-3334 and the to-do list was long. I picked a few JIRAs and as I started reading through I realized, this is all new code I get to contribute to and review. There might be a better way to put this, but to be honest it was just a lot of fun! All the white boards were full, the team took walks post lunch and discussed how to go about defining the API. Countless hours were spent debugging hangs while fetching data and looking at stack traces and Wireshark captures from our test runs. Six months in and we had the feature on our sandbox clusters. There were moments ranging from sheer frustration to absolute exhilaration with high fives as we continued to address review comments and fixing big and small issues with this evolving feature.

As much as owning your code is valued everywhere in the software community, I would never go on to say “I did this!” In fact, “we did!” It is this strong sense of shared ownership and fluid team structure that makes the open source experience at Apache truly rewarding. This is just one example. A lot of the work that was done in Tez was leveraged by the Hive and Pig community and cross Apache product community interaction made the work ever more interesting and challenging. Triaging and fixing issues with the Tez rollout led us to hit a 100% migration score last year and we also rolled the Tez Shuffle Handler Service out to our research clusters. As of last year we have run around 100 million Tez DAGs with a total of 50 billion tasks over almost 38,000 nodes.

In 2018 as I move on to explore Hadoop 3.0 as our future release, I hope that if someone outside the Apache community is reading this, it will inspire and intrigue them to contribute to a project of their choice. As an astronomy aficionado, going from a newbie Apache contributor to a newbie Apache committer was very much like looking through my telescope - it has endless possibilities and challenges you to be your best.

Kuhu Shukla is a software engineer at Oath and did her Masters in Computer Science at North Carolina State University. She works on the Big Data Platforms team on Apache Tez, YARN and HDFS with a lot of talented Apache PMCs and Committers in Champaign, Illinois. A recent Apache Tez Committer herself she continues to contribute to YARN and HDFS and spoke at the 2017 Dataworks Hadoop Summit on "Tez Shuffle Handler : Shuffling At Scale With Apache Hadoop". Prior to that she worked on Juniper Networks' router and switch configuration APIs. She likes to participate in open source conferences and women in tech events. In her spare time she loves singing Indian classical and jazz, laughing, whale watching, hiking and peering through her Dobsonian telescope.

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"Success at Apache" is a monthly blog series that focuses on the processes behind why the ASF "just works". 1) Project Independence https://s.apache.org/CE0V 2) All Carrot and No Stick https://s.apache.org/ykoG 3) Asynchronous Decision Making https://s.apache.org/PMvk 4) Rule of the Makers https://s.apache.org/yFgQ 5) JFDI --the unconditional love of contributors https://s.apache.org/4pjM 6) Meritocracy and Me https://s.apache.org/tQQh 7) Learning to Build a Stronger Community https://s.apache.org/x9Be 8) Meritocracy. https://s.apache.org/DiEo 9) Lowering Barriers to Open Innovation https://s.apache.org/dAlg 10) Scratch your own itch. https://s.apache.org/Apah 11) What a Long Strange (and Great) Trip It's Been https://s.apache.org/gVuN 12) A Newbie's Narrative https://s.apache.org/A72H

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