Codonics Final Co-op Report for Fall 2011

Codonics

During my co-op at Codonics, I have been heavily involved in implementing wireless and networking support for the Safe Label System, a medical device used in Operating Rooms to help reduce the number of medical mistakes in syringe labeling.

 

Responsibilities

At the beginning of my co-op at Codonics, my responsibilities were focused on testing software. I used a system called TestTrack to record bugs and related information. During development, developers updated these TestTrack tickets, and it was my job to verify the bugs were fixed.  In addition, I wrote up Test Reports, which detailed tests that I preformed to verify some type of functionality as defined in the functional specifications. One of my tests involved the creation of a webserver that would display barcodes on a web page. This webpage was displayed on an iPod Touch, and placed directly underneath a scanner. My test helped to verify the long-term functionality of the Safe Label System by printing over 1,000 labels automatically.

My largest responsibility at Codonics by far has been to oversee the development of the Safe Label System’s networking capabilities. I spent a few weeks testing multiple wireless adapters, and determining what software was needed to utilize them. Then, I began to write the software that would allow users to connect to wireless networks on the device. As the requirements changed, I have been updating the networking code. Recently, I have been implementing support for WPA/WPA2 Enterprise networks, such as EAP-TLS and PEAPv0-MSCHAPv2. These networks use certificates to encrypt and authenticate connections, which adds complexity to the software. I had to consider the best way to store this information, without letting it get into the hands of unauthorized users. Since these types of networks are used in hospitals, it is important that the software correctly handles such network authentication protocols.

 

Skills

Codonics has helped me to further supplement skills that I would not have received through classes at Case Western Reserve University. I gained experience with writing test procedures using LaTeX, a typesetting language used to create professional looking documents. I also learned how to write scripts using AutoIt, in order to automate many of the test procedures. Codonics also introduced me to JUnit tests, which are small pieces of code that test production code in order to look for regressions in functionality. These test are useful when multiple programmers are working on a project, or when a large refactoring of logic or code occurs.

I have used many skills that I learned in class while at my co-op with Codonics. My Advanced Game Design class helped me further familiarize myself with Java, a programming language used extensively during my co-op. I used the knowledge in my Operating Systems class to help develop the wireless networking code, as well as the restricted shell environment used in the Safe Label System. Operating Systems class helped to further my knowledge of concurrent processes and thread-safety, which I incorporated into my networking code. If multiple processes or threads attempted to manage a single wireless device, the adapter could end up getting configured improperly. In order to prevent such an occurrence, I implemented the use of a single thread pool that executes task synchronously, based on a given priority. Operating Systems, as well as Compilers, increased my knowledge of programming languages such as C and C++. These two languages are used in creating the restricted shell environment, which only allows authorized users to execute pre-specified commands, while blocking the use of others. There are cases in which we want to allow the user to run a pre-defined script, which could execute commands not normally allowed. In that case, the restricted environment is able to break out of the restrictions in order to use those specific commands, as well as access specific files and directories that are not normally permissible.

 

Reflections

My co-op at Codonics has helped me develop real-world experience in developing software as part of a team. I spent a majority of time at the beginning of my co-op doing testing, and it allowed me to understand how the products functioned in respect to the end user.  Before my co-op at Codonics, I never realized how much effort goes into testing, especially for medical products. For example, there are many test procedures that need to be executed on every release candidate to ensure there have been no regressions. New test procedures are created from test reports, which are sometimes planned out before the functionality has even been implemented. As I became familiar with the products, I began writing my own tests. My first test report covered printing 1,000 labels on an SLS, to ensure there were no memory leaks. In order to run the test, I created a webserver that generated barcode images, and loaded it onto an iPod Touch. The plan worked successfully, and soon my SLS unit was printing barcodes non-stop, automatically. My test interested many of my coworkers and supervisors, who stopped by to see the test in action. Before my barcode server, tests were done manually by testers, which consumed valuable time. In addition, testers were only able to test a limited number of drug vials that were around during the testing. My barcode scanner was able to test every drug known to the SLS, because it generated the barcodes automatically from a list of drugs in the SLS system. I hope that my code helps to shorten the time it takes to test the Safe Label System, and give testers more time to investigate other functional aspects of the device.

As I moved to more of a developer role, I began to learn the importance of writing unit tests. I was given a book on JUnit, and from there began writing and updating unit tests as I worked on the SLS project. Unit tests are small pieces of code that test the functionality of production code. These tests are very valuable when multiple developers are working on a project, and help to detect regressions quickly. There are some downsides however, because time must be taken to update the unit tests when the logic has changed. During my co-op I wrote the networking system for both wired and wireless network interfaces, and was forced to refactor my code as the input specifications changed. Unit testing helped to ensure the overall functionality of my design did not regress after refactoring the logic, and served to increase my confidence in my code changes.

I learned the important of writing software to technical specifications, which allows multiple programmers to work on various parts of the code at separate times. When code is written as agreed upon, it makes for an easier integration when developers begin to merge their code together. At first, such specifications can seem tedious, especially when they change as the software matures, but these specifications help to ensure the software behaves as expected, and can also serve as an outline that can be used by the Testing department to ensure a thorough examination of the software.

While working on Codonics, I was given the opportunity to do some business travel, an opportunity rarely given to co-op students. My first time traveling as a Codonics employee was to Anesthesiology 2011 in Chicago. While working at the tradeshow, I learned about various vendors in the medical industry, and how the Safe Label System positioned itself among them. During off the clock hours, I relaxed with fellow employees and learned more about the company, employees, and culture.

My second trip representing Codonics was to Boston, and it was my first time flying by myself. It was a very new experience for me, because I was responsible for taking along a Safe Label System to demonstrate the new networking capabilities at Massachusetts General Hospital. Once in Boston, I worked with MGH staff in order to verify our software was able to connect to their EAP-TLS network. I caught a glimpse of how a hospital’s IT staff was structured, and how different people in the chain were able to help push agendas along. We discussed networking requirements, user interface preferences, and likely use cases for how the Safe Label System would be networked in the operating rooms. I was awe-struck at how large the hospital complex was, which impacted my view of how important networking support would be for our next release of software. If a hospital buys hundreds of units, and places them in various buildings, it would be a challenge to update and verify their all working properly.  Networking support will give administrators control of all the units from one computer, with the ability to push updates out to all the systems with a push of a button. In addition, network administrators will be able to monitor the status of the units, and receive email notifications if something unexpected occurs, such as an unknown drug being scanned. The software I developed will help to ease the introduction of the Safe Label System into large hospitals, and reduce medical mistakes by improperly labeled drugs. Being given the chance to travel with Codonics has been a great privilege that has helped me to see other parts of the company that I would not have normally be exposed to.

I have been very happy with my co-o p at Codonics, and the experience has helped to boost my confidence in my programming skills. Codonics has helped me grow as a computer engineer, and I hope to continue learning more during my second co-op with them.

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