Kitware’s Kitchens

August 24, 2010

My first tour of Kitware’s Clifton Park facilities last summer began in the downstairs kitchen. I had first been impressed with the Keurig hot beverage machine – a little something that would keep me amused every time I used it up to this day. One machine. A variety of little cups that you could tuck in to suit different tastes. That’s kind of how the Insight and Visualization Toolkits work – filtering images and data the way the machine filtered water. Both gave you something different, depending on what you filtered it through. I hadn’t been able to make the connection then, of course, but by the end of my first summer, those machines had given me another reason for amusement.

Kitware's hot beverage machine with filters.

During my first summer, my inception into a realm of research and cutting-edge imaging software and technologies stimulated my interest in the application of computer science to fields that directly aid humanity. In three short months, I experienced and learned to utilize powerful tools used to create Kitware’s products. I returned to Kitware this summer,  hoping that I would more fully comprehend how Kitware maneuvers itself through the economy and contributes internationally. As an Information Technology major concentrating in Managing Information Systems, I had learned about the importance of a viable business model as part of deciding whether to carry through with a software project. I have read about the emerging army of ‘free’ business models. Kitware stands as a unique open-source company that functions profitably while making complex and high-quality code freely available, demonstrating how an innovative twist challenges the traditional business model.

Kitware has roughly four areas of concentration: supercomputing visualization, medical imaging, data publication and computer vision. Its workforce is similarly concentrated — geographically. Thus, working in one department will periodically expose you to news and work going on in other departments. These crossovers are especially helpful when trying out different areas to see where one’s interest is strongest. One of the things that initially piqued my curiosity was how an open source company could survive as a profitable business. Logic would dictate that making  thousands and thousands of hours of code, support and software freely available would accomplish just the financial opposite. In hearing a convincing counterargument from an open-source point of view, I saw a different facet of the previously mystical system. It seems that making a living working toward quality open source software and contributing to a greater and more permanent purpose are certainly not mutually exclusive goals. Heightened in awareness to the nature and long-term effects of open source and proprietary code, I think twice every time I see a company generating or licensing proprietary code. These thoughts inevitably lead one to ponder questions such as whether the same standards of social responsibility are held from industry to industry.

If there was one thing I could pass on to future Kitware interns, it would be “Don’t limit yourself.” The people at Kitware are dedicated and passionate, readily expressing ideas and offering insight on problems. Working in one department does not limit your scope to that one department. If you have a reasonable question about something a different department is doing, answers will come if you ask. Communication within the company is facilitated through mailing lists, an internal and external blog, company events, interconnected kitchens and enterprise microblogging (Yammer). These provide plenty of opportunities to learn about everything from drawing up accurate time/cost estimates for clients’ projects to significant upcoming projects to Kitware’s role in the computing ecosystem. Such well-thought-out blogs have alerted me to a unique combination of subjects relevant to my intended career, and are always a pleasure to read. The variety of professionals and specialists in one building makes Kitware an ideal place to get to know an array of potential career paths.

Kitware’s environment is laden heavily with academia and research. As my second summer at Kitware draws to an end, I hope that incoming interns may realize and embrace the resources and professional experiences this fine enterprise has to offer. People are always discussing cutting edge ideas and innovations or improving existing projects. One can easily pick up a lot of the more complex elements of high-end imaging, software and a variety of other topics just by being in the office. By the way, from my personal experience, chances of learning deeper aspects of Kitware’s assortment of projects direct from the sources are increased significantly by spending time in Kitware’s upstairs kitchens around noon.


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