By Karina Pešatová

This blog post summarises the insightful panel discussion that took place during the Birds of a Feather (BoF) session „Super(computing)heroes“ at ISC24 on 14 May 2024. The session featured a panel of distinguished women in high-performance computing (HPC) who shared their experiences, challenges, and visions for the future of HPC. The motivation of this panel session was to inspire and empower, in particular, young women in HPC by providing role models, challenging stereotypes, and celebrating successes. By joining this session, participants could engage with accomplished women in HPC, fostering an inclusive and supportive environment. Below are the main points and aspects of HPC that were discussed. The session attendees had the choice of questions, steering the discussion to the topics of their highest interest.

What skills do you believe everyone in HPC should have to stay current and informed? 

Our panellists portrayed HPC as a continuously evolving field with unique challenges and opportunities. According to their insights, communication is vital in any career, especially in HPC, which is inherently collaborative. HPC specialists never operate in isolation. Patience and a commitment to continuous learning were mentioned as essential soft skills in HPC. According to the panellists, staying updated with new hardware trends, programming models, and tools is necessary as technologies and methodologies evolve. 

Carla Osthoff, a Senior HPC Researcher at the National Laboratory for Scientific Computing in Brazil, stressed, “Understanding the hardware is fundamental in HPC. To optimise application performance, one must comprehend how the underlying hardware functions. It’s not enough to rely on libraries; understanding the architecture and using profilers to analyse performance are critical steps in becoming an HPC expert.” Sandra Diaz Pier from Jülich Supercomputing Centre in Germany seconded that, „Bridging the gap between system-side knowledge and application-side expertise is crucial for success in this field.”

What will be the big game-changer in the next 5 years? 

Integrating HPC with data platforms is becoming increasingly important in the commercial world. „HPC has to be married with data and the data platforms.“ Silvina Grad, Head of Technical Marketing from MathWorks in the USA, highlighted the need to focus on data management platforms to enhance computational efficiency. And she continued: “Cloud technology has significantly democratised access to HPC resources. Cloud platforms enable organisations of all sizes to leverage the scalability of supercomputers, which was previously limited to large labs and companies. This accessibility has transformed research and development processes across various industries.”

The panellists have agreed that the rise of AI and the integration of GPUs mark a new era in HPC, driving innovation and expanding the capabilities of computational science. The synergy between HPC and AI is creating powerful tools for research and development.

Is there any recent HPC project that you find particularly innovative in its approach?

Innovative HPC projects often involve collaboration across various disciplines. One notable project mentioned by two panellists, Estela Suarez, Professor in HPC at the University of Bonn and Division Co-Lead for Novel System Architecture Design at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre, Germany, and Maria Girone, the Head of the CERN openlab, Switzerland, was the DEEP projects series, which brought together the science, infrastructure, and technology communities to find effective solutions for future HPC architectures. “This collaborative approach highlights the importance of making connections and developing solutions that benefit the broader scientific community,” said Maria.

Which was the proudest moment in your HPC career?

Once again, Lois Curfman McInnes, senior computational scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in the USA, has mentioned the collaborative spirit of the HPC community: “I can’t think of a single thing that I have done completely alone. I collaborate with all sorts of different teams on different aspects of work. I’m proud of the work many people in the international community have done to advance high-quality, high-performance software. We should recognise the critical roles that good quality software plays in the work that all of us do. It’s a foundation for our collaboration. And often, software doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.”

The issue of women being underrepresented in HPC and how we should individually contribute to a more diverse HPC community in the future by providing role models was pointed out by Florence Tama, Principal Investigator at Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules at the Nagoya University in Japan: ”I never felt like a minority before, but in Japan, I do in two ways: I’m not Japanese, and I’m a woman. There are few women in HPC in Japan; in general, women in science are scarce here. Two of my researchers have recently become assistant professors at Osaka University and Kobe University. This makes me proud to promote women in science in Japan, a challenging but important endeavour. With my daughter growing up here, where women in science are rare, I hope to be an example for her and that she’ll consider a future in science.”

How would you encourage other women to join the HPC world?

Panelists discussed the necessity of showcasing the diverse possibilities within HPC, which can attract individuals from different backgrounds. Therefore, it is important to demonstrate that there is space in HPC for every profile to make significant contributions to addressing today’s societal challenges.

“High-performance computing is so broad and multidisciplinary that there’s a desperate need for all sorts of people with various skills and interests. So, I would encourage not only those interested in science and math but also those intrigued by the social dynamics that enable team science to thrive to join the HPC world,“ said Lilit Axner, program manager at EuroHPC Joint Undertaking with its seat in Luxembourg.

Here are some of the panel’s highlights: 

  • HPC is a multidisciplinary field requiring a blend of technical expertise, continuous learning, and effective communication. 
  • Embracing new technologies and methodologies, understanding hardware intricacies, and fostering collaboration are key to advancing in this dynamic field. 
  • Whether in scientific research or commercial applications, HPC continues to be a cornerstone of innovation and progress. 

This overly male field can sometimes be difficult to navigate for women, but by supporting one another and pursuing our dreams, we can achieve great things like our panellists. One of the things women can do is to aim to be adequately represented in projects and community events. One of the facilitators of the BoF session, Marta García-Gassula, closed the session with a final remark: “If we are told that there are no women in the field of HPC to be included in a panel or speakers lineup at a conference, or they are hard to find, then the organisers did not look properly. Our session is proof that many accomplished women in HPC are there!”


Impressions:


Panellists:

Florence Tama, RIKEN R-CCS/J, Japan

Lois Curfman McInnes, Argonne National Laboratory, USA

Lilit Axner, EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, Luxembourg

Estela Suarez, Jülich Supercomputing Centre, Germany

Rosa M. Badia, Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Spain

Pascale Bernier-Bruna, Eviden, France

Carla Osthoff, National Laboratory for Scientific Computing, Brazil

Sandra Diaz, Jülich Supercomputing Centre, Germany

Lena Oden, FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany

Silvina Grad-Freilich, MathWorks, USA

Maria Girone, CERN openlab, Switzerland


Organisers:

Cristina Manzano, Jülich Supercomputing Centre, Germany

Marta García-Gasulla, Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Spain

Elisabeth Ortega-Carrasco, Do IT Now, Spain

Karina Pešatová, IT4Innovations National Supercomputing Center, Czech Republic

Anna Lührs, Jülich Supercomputing Centre, Germany


About the blog post author:

Karina Pešatová, MBA, is the head of the Training and Education Department at IT4Innovations National Supercomputing Centre, Czech Republic. Her MBA is in PR and Communication. Her 8 years of experience working at and leading the Public Relations Department at IT4Innovations has led her to develop an enthusiasm for creating and executing high-quality outreach and science popularisation content and events, which she is now utilising in her new role in the Training and Education domain. Her numerous international activities include the dissemination of several FP7 and H2020 projects and their outcomes, amongst others, contributing to developing outreach and training programmes for PRACE 2IP – 6IP and being the training champion for the Czech National Competence Center in HPC in the EuroCC 1 and 2 projects. She is the coordinator of an international project, Superheroes 4 Science, which aims to demonstrate HPC and its related fields to the next generation of HPC specialists and the general public.

About guest

As our blog name suggests, we want to give women in HPC a voice, so we regularly feature guest contributors to bring diverse perspectives and experiences to our platform.

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