By Emine Beyza Dagli
Crisp autumn weather set the stage for SC21 in St. Louis, Missouri. It was my first time visiting this area, and I enjoyed sightseeing when I wasn’t involved with the conference. Among iconic landmarks is the “Arch,” which is a magnificent feat of engineering. I traveled to the top of The Gateway to the West and can now understand how it got that name; the adventure offered a bird’s eye view of the city and miles beyond.
On the first day, I attended the Parallel Computing 101 tutorial led by Professors Quentin F. Stout and Christiane Jablonowski from the University of Michigan. Following introductions, they explained some of the basic terms and acronyms that many in the industry take for granted, such as HPC, parallel computing, embarrassingly parallel, etc. They explained such concepts in ways that novice learners could easily understand. For example, “embarrassingly parallel” was defined as “solving many similar but independent tasks.” They characterized it as everyone leaving their homes to come to SC (similarity), but from various locations (independent). Another example was comparing a handshake to communication in a distributed memory system – the sender and receiver are essentially two handshaking partners.
The audience was engaged through active participation and experiments – in one exercise, I joined four additional volunteers who received an envelope from the professor. We were instructed to assemble into a circle. Using only our right hands, we attempted to pass the envelope to our neighbor on the right. After discovering difficulties, we were encouraged to use both hands, which simplified the task. In the first experiment, we couldn’t receive another letter until we had given the one in our hands to another. That’s when a process cannot proceed – it’s in “deadlock” – until each message has successfully passed.
Professor Stout noted that he had observed a greater number of female attendees at SC21 over previous years. I recalled his comment later when I attended the “Women in HPC” session, and others that noted how the industry has struggled over the years to engage more women. Statistical data on the number of women who attended nine different conferences, including SC, were shared. HPC has a long way to go before it achieves gender parity since fewer than one in ten HPC authors is female. Additionally, women are underrepresented in prominent roles, such as conference keynote speakers and session chairs.
On the second day, I attended the Introduction to Quantum Computing tutorial led by Eleanor Gilbert Rieffel (NASA) and Scott Pakin (Los Alamos National Laboratory). This was a hybrid session – Dr. Rieffel joined online, and Dr. Pakin was in St. Louis.
They first explained how the concept of quantum computing was conceived in the 1980s by Richard Feynman and Yuri Manin, and how it is rapidly becoming a reality.
Dr. Rieffel explained why NASA is interested in quantum computing, and how their QuAIL Quantum Computing group was formed ten years ago. Its mission is to “determine the potential for quantum computation to enable more ambitious and safer NASA missions in the future.” The QuAIL team is based at the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California – home of the Pleiades supercomputer which is among the top 25 fastest in the world.
From there, I attended a session titled Presentation and Communication Skills which caught my interest as a teacher. In this session, seven panelists discussed the characteristics of effective presentations and offered suggestions on how to be more confident and relaxed when speaking in public. They talked about their experiences, as well. One presenter moved his arms with wide gestures as he spoke – he said that his confidence increases when he uses his arms to take up more space on the stage. This is something I have always done, instinctively; now I know there’s a reason behind it!
That evening, I attended the exhibition opening gala event. This provided us with the opportunity to meet exhibitors and learn about their products and services. Some offered games and activities, and I won a prize!
Photos by Emine Beyza Dagli