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Report from ECSU CERSER Research student Jefferson Ridgeway III

From November 12 – 17, 2016, I was able to attend Supercomputing 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah as a student volunteer.  This conference is held annually around the world, and at this conference professors, industry executives, and students come together to explore the new techniques and technologies within the High-Performance Computing (HPC) arena. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go and grow in my understanding of HPC and networking skills at this conference. Supercomputing 2016 has had a profound effect on me and because of this conference I am considering in getting my graduate degree in HPC.

Every day of the conference is held in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Throughout the program, student volunteers can attend a majority of the events while also having to volunteer in different places at the conference.  On the first day of the conference, I went to a workshop entitled Diversity & Inclusion: Views from the Field.  This workshop was headed by different speakers included a professor from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dr. George Thiruvathukal and a researcher, Ms. Ritu Arora at a research lab. In this talk, the professor from Uni. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign talked about the not just the need for diversity in the tech field, but the necessity of all kinds of diversity (racial, gender, socioeconomic, etc…) for the tech field to flourish as it should.  I did not ask any questions during this workshop; however the topic was interesting to me since it talked about the progress and difficulties of inclusion of minority groups in HPC-related fields.

After leaving that workshop, I went to a tutorial entitled Parallel Computing 101.  This tutorial was taught by Professor Quentin F. Stout and Professor Christiane Jablonowski, who were both from University of Michigan.  This tutorial sought to provide the audience with understanding the basic and key concepts of parallel computing and the current state of practice within the industry and field itself. In this workshop, I learned both terminology and application methods that I did not know previously. One of the quotes during the tutorial session was from Professor Stout, who said, “To think of each node as an individual unit and having to complete one task in full before arriving at another”. Overall, this tutorial was a beginner’s lesson in understanding how parallel computing works and the necessity of it, in order to do HPC.

The next day on Monday, November 14th, I went to another tutorial called Programming Your GPU with OpenMP: A Hands-on Introduction.  In this tutorial was headed by three different presenters: Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith from University of Bristol, Mr. James Reinders as an Independent speaker, and Mr. Tim Mattson from Intel Corporation.  In this tutorial, I was able to hear from these three phenomenal speakers, as they spoke about the merging of both GPU and OpenMP techniques.  The next event that I attended was the Students@SC event called Navigating SC16, Getting Involved with SC17… and Beyond.  This event was very beneficial to me as I was able to understand how to properly take the opportunities that are at a global conference such as Supercomputing 2016.  Speakers that are the head of the Students@SC and the Student Volunteers spoke to the student about staying connected with them during and after the conference.  It was communicated that it is important to keep in contact with those that are the head of the program, in order so that not only do we come back but we spread the word about the conference at our local universities and companies. I took special note of this as I would like to return to a supercomputing conference.

Later that same day was the Mentor-Protégé dinner, and here I was able to stretch outside my comfort zone and talk with people with whom I had never before previously. Although my mentor did not arrive, I was able to talk with other mentors and talk with a Ph.D. student.  During the conversation with the Ph.D. student, I talked about my understanding of my undergraduate experience and what graduate school might be like.  He in turn, broke down how he ended up at university that he was at, while also talking about the benefits and some of the things that I would have to leery about in pursuing a Ph.D. I enjoyed this conversation a lot because I feel as if the conversation was very candid and honest.

Over the next few days, Tuesday and Wednesday, I spent more time in the exhibition hall than in the tutorials, workshops, or speaker series. In the exhibition hall, there were a plethora of companies ranging from Nvidia to Intel, Microsoft and universities including Georgia Tech, Indiana University Bloomington, and others.  To say that I enjoyed myself at the exhibition hall, is an understatement. I was able to see different applications of HPC on both a university level, and a company level from both universities and companies around the world. While at the exhibition hall, I was able to take part in a tutorial session by Qwik Labs in which I learned an introduction to Parallel Computing on a python online notebook.  The notebook was connected to a GPU supplied by AWS (Amazon Web Services).  All in all, I was astounded by the awesome exhibitors and the exhibition hall itself, and I see that as one of the biggest highlights of me going to experience SC16.

Furthermore, on Wednesday, there was a Career Fair open for all student attendees at Supercomputing 2016. At this career fair, I was able to talk with different universities and companies such as Boise State University and Intel.  I was also able to connect with government agencies such as the NSA.  This career fair allowed me to see where I feel I would be best suited after graduating Elizabeth City State University.  I am grateful to have gone to the Career Fair and connect with so many different people and opportunities.

On the last day of the trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, I was able to attend another Students@SC event called Experiencing HPC for Undergraduates: Careers in HPC. The presenters that were present at this event included: Professor Jennifer Schopf from Indiana University, Ms. Kate Keahey from Argonne National Laboratory, Professor Jerome Vienne from University of Texas at Austin, Mr. Tim Mattson from Intel Corporation, Professor William Gropp from University of Illinois, Dr. Jeffrey S. Vetter from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Mr. Michael Wolfe from the Portland Group. In this talk, the presenters each talked about their careers and tips that they have learned along the way in order to be successful at what they currently do. One of the quotes from Professor Jennifer Schopf, she said, “It’s important to be able to communicate effectively and establish real relationships with people”. This quote was important to me as it indicated to me that it’s not always about having the knowledge to complete a task, but knowing how to communicate that knowledge in a way that is understandable to your fellow colleagues is important skill to have in any field. This talk proved to be a very informative talk about how to move forward in advancing in my studies and my professional career.

In attending Supercomputing 2016, I learned a lot about myself and what I would and would not like to do after leaving college. This conference gave me a newfound perspective on HPC-relate fields and the importance of communicating with other people and stepping outside of my comfort zone.



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