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Clément Béra: A real passion for virtual machines

Clément Béra - © Inria

For more than two years, Clément Béra has made good use of his engineering expertise as a valuable member of the Rmod project team. His work includes the optimization of virtual machines, essential links between the worlds of computer scientists and computers.

How did you come to join the Rmod team?

After I graduated with an engineering degree, I worked for a while in a business environment. But this didn’t really suit me as I felt more attracted to research. As an undergraduate, some of our courses had been taught by Stéphane Ducasse, the manager of the Rmod project team, and I was particularly impressed by his lectures. When I learned that he was looking for an engineer to join his team, I didn’t hesitate to apply. I joined the team in October 2012 and, at the end of 2014, I was lucky enough to begin three years of working towards a PhD, while still remaining a member of Rmod. This change in direction added a whole new dimension to my work. I was no longer required to produce a deliverable. My challenge was now to generate research results based on an in-depth knowledge of state-of-the-art high-level virtual machines.

What are these virtual machines used for?

High-level virtual machines are essential components in modern computer science as they provide a bridge between a programming language that a developer can understand and the machine code, consisting of sequences of numbers. A virtual machine must be compatible with a range of different platforms, such as smartphones and PCs. It must also manage the memory used by the processor in an intelligent manner. Improving these virtual machines is therefore a significant challenge. In my work towards a PhD, I will be working on the conservation of certain code optimizations generated automatically by the virtual machines. The aim is to ensure that these modifications are not lost when the power is switched off. This will ultimately save a lot of time during machine start-up.

How did you find your first years at Inria?

I was a little apprehensive when I first joined the team. I was worried that, as an engineer, I would be looked upon as somehow inferior to the researchers. However, I soon saw that this was not the case, as the team already included two experienced engineers who made a real contribution to the projects undertaken by the researchers. In addition, the team works on many applied research projects, and this made me feel much more comfortable. I was also reassured by the Swiss PhD student and German researcher who provided my training within the team.

Your team is a very international one. Why is that?

The Rmod project team contributes to the development and wider use of Pharo, a programming language and development environment currently being used by around twenty SMEs, fifteen research teams, 23 universities and around fifty commercial companies. As an engineer, one of my tasks was to improve the performance of the virtual machine at the heart of Pharo. I was excited by the possibility of working on Pharo, as it has a very active community, particularly in Chile and Switzerland. There are also close to 3000 students using it to develop programs. The international aspects of this project have enabled me to meet people from a wide range of different backgrounds. I have also given presentations to some very large businesses who were considering migrating to Pharo. Any change of this nature constitutes an exciting and difficult challenge. It is our job to provide the necessary support to facilitate and accelerate this process.

*Inria Lille – Nord Europe project team, run jointly with the University of Lille1 as part of UMR 9189 CNRS-Centrale Lille-Université Lille1, CRIStAL.

Keywords: Machine language Virtual machine Portrait PhD Pharo Engineer