SC19: Els says to plan your work and work your plan!

By: Rosanne Els, Lecturer in Computer Science at the
University of Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa

Having had the opportunity to attend SC17, I was delighted when I received the news that I had also been selected to receive an SC19 registration waiver, with tutorials and workshops included (thank you SC19 General Chair Michela Taufer).

I quickly set about booking flights and sorting out all the logistical things to make the trip a reality. At the time, I was in the final stages of supervising several Honours and Postgraduate projects, marking tests, finalizing class marks and setting examinations. Though feeling overstretched, I knew, having had the experience in 2017, that all the additional time in getting the logistics worked out would be worthwhile in the end. There seemed to be a hurdle at almost every step of the way, but I remained focused on the goal…getting to SC19. 

I also knew that to make the most of the trip I had to plan ahead and determine which sessions I was going to attend while at the conference. As the time approached, I spent time scanning the full program. From experience I knew that there is just too much going on in parallel for one to aimlessly walk from one session to another. Determining which workshops/tutorials, presentations, talks and BoFs (Birds of a Feather Sessions) is a time-consuming task, but I knew that finalizing my plan, in advance, would allow me to get the most out of my time in Denver. As is often the case with such a large program, one finds that there are many sessions that are possibly of interest but are unfortunately scheduled at the same time. This was the case for both the Sunday and Monday’s program. I ultimately decided which ones to attend based on the topics as well as the presenters and how closely the workshops and tutorials fit my desired objectives.

Eventually, it came time for me to start my two-day journey to Denver. I arrived Saturday evening and, despite having naps on the various flights, I was exhausted when I eventually arrived at the hotel 36 hours after leaving home. I quickly orientated myself, got organized for the next day, and then went straight to sleep for the night.

Then, from early Sunday morning it was go, go, go….

As I am primarily interested in introducing students to HPC and igniting their enthusiasm and passion for programming using parallel environments, I attended the “Parallel Computing 101” tutorial on Monday and “Programming your GPU with OpenMP: A Hands-On Introduction” tutorial on Tuesday.  I was pleased with the outcome of both full-day tutorials, firstly because they reassured me that I am introducing my students to these concepts in a similar way and also because I was able to extend my own knowledge in certain areas. To be honest, I had a hard time selecting which tutorial/workshop to attend as there were so many that interested me. I am grateful that I also have the opportunity to get some insight into some of the other workshops and tutorials that I could not attend through the resources that were made available to conference attendees.

The remaining days were filled with attending paper presentations (that align with my own research areas), spending time on the exhibition floor (a great place to network and see the latest technology) and attending several BoFs.  The BoFs “Community Building for Sustainable and Scalable HPC Outreach,” “Training and Education for HPC Systems Administrators: How Can we do Better?” and the Intel-hosted OpenHPC Panel discussion (I have already proudly worn my OpenHPC tee-shirt to work) were all of immense interest to me because I had a deep sense that regardless of the environment the contributors found themselves in, or the resources available to them, at the core were very similar intentions and very similar problems. It is at the BoFs and panel discussions that you get a real sense of community. 

By far the most entertaining session for me was the keynote address by Dr. Steven Squyres “Exploring the Solar System with the Power of Technology.”  He delivered an excellent presentation with beautiful images and just the right mix of humour, humility and interesting, inside information on the Mars Exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, from design to completion of their respective missions (with all the challenges along the way). I was captivated for the entire duration of the presentation. 

I am sure most delegates got to know the Denver Conference Center very well with us arriving early and leaving after dark most days. Some of us Southern African Development Community (SADC) members who were fortunate to be at the conference thanks to the hard work and generosity of STEM-Trek (and in particular, Elizabeth Leake), and the South African Centre for HPC; CHPC sponsored our accommodation and transport to and from the venue, and made sure we made the most of the opportunity by getting a sense of Denver away from the Conference Center as well.

We met with some of our American counterparts, CHPC staff, and BoF participants from the UK to try out the local deep-dish pizza one evening! This was also a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better.  I also got some more insight into the Student Cluster Competition, another of my interests and one of the ways in which I intend to pay it forward.

On another evening, we had an opportunity to dine at a fine Italian Restaurant, Osteria Marco, thanks to Google and Elizabeth Leake. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals from America who were able to give us some insight into their programs and challenges, and for us to share our stories too.   

Overall, this was a wonderful opportunity that I know I will be benefiting from for a very long time and hence I would like to thank all the sponsors who enabled me to go. I would also like to thank Elizabeth Leake, in particular, who gives of her time so generously to drive STEM-Trek and makes so many individuals’ dreams come true. Elizabeth even went thrift shopping for us SADC group members to ensure we had a warm coat waiting for us at our hotel as she was concerned that we would be unprepared for the Colorado weather and freeze. I think it is safe to say that we all enjoyed the snow and this was just an added bonus for the SADC group members.   

Thank you, thank you!

Many worked together to make SC19 possible – more than:
780 volunteers, 370 exhibitors, 1,150 presenters, and a record 13,950 attendees.

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