HPC: A Whole New World!

By Janei Elliston (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University; FAMU)

In the latter part of the Spring 2022 semester, my research professor in my Computer Science Master’s program encouraged me to apply for the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing (PEARC22) Conference Student Program, July 10-14. Prior to this, I had no idea about this conference. For context, I was a Mathematics major as an undergraduate student and completed one year of graduate study in an Applied Mathematics Ph.D. program before deciding to switch to Computer Science. Since then, I have been exposed to innovative technologies and programs, and PEARC22 was the first lens through which I could see the computing world with professionals and students sharing a common interest in High-Performance Computing (HPC).

Thankfully, my application for the student program was accepted and I also received a STEM-Trek award. That meant that all fees for the conference, travel and hotel accommodation were taken care of! I arrived in Boston on Sunday, (it was my first time visiting this city) and the registration process was seamless. The introductory sessions were informative, and I knew what was expected of me as a student volunteer.

Tutorials and Workshops

My first workshop on Monday was “Testing your HPC System with Buildtest” led by Shahzeb Siddiqui. We all received links for the Google slides that outlined the tutorial steps, and for the GitHub repository. This was my very first time doing anything HPC related and it was fun and informative. They even created a Slack channel where we could seek help, and stay connected after the conference. 

Later that evening, the Student Program Mentor-Protégé dinner was held. I had the pleasure of being matched with Lauren Milechin from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and I am so grateful to have met her. Just like me, she started out as a Mathematics major and switched to Computer Science during graduate school. I had so many doubts and reservations that she helped to quell during the dinner. The following day, I visited her presentation on Building Experience and Confidence in HPC Practitioners, which explored the applicability of HPC to projects in other fields. She also shared that there is a free, asynchronous HPC course offered by MIT. 

I enjoyed the paper presentations on Wednesday that focused on Machine Learning. This is an area that I am currently exploring. Seeing how HPC can optimize processes engendered curiosity in me to explore ML in future research.

 I participated in the Speed Networking event on Wednesday, and I will never forget the gentleman from Dell who taught me how important it is to give a firm handshake to make a good first impression during an interview. I was able to meet with hiring managers and improve my elevator pitch. The Resume Clinic was one of my favorite workshops because I really needed a resume doctor’s help to revamp my template-made resume. I also learned about the power of LinkedIn, which is an application I am new to and learning how to navigate. 

Aside from the conference itself, I was excited to be in Boston. The Boston Park Plaza where PEARC22 was held had the most breathtaking views outside while the classic interior décor made me feel as though I was transferred back in time to England. An interesting experience for me was visiting the Irish pub close by, which was my first time trying Irish food and realizing that the Irish had a strong impact on my country’s cuisine. I am from Jamaica, and growing up, corned beef and cabbage was one of my favorite meals, but I did not know it was an Irish dish brought to the island. It was nice to learn something new through food.

PEARC22 was my very first computing conference and nothing short of amazing, invigorating, and informative. I would like to thank the planning committee for the superb job done, but most of all I would like to thank STEM-Trek’s Elizabeth Leake, who made it possible for me to be at the conference. This is an experience that I’d love for every student to have.

Thank you!

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