WHPC at ISC 2016


By Toni Collis, Women in HPC Founder and Director and Applications Consultant at EPCC, University of Edinburgh.

The week of ISC High Performance 2016 in mid June, saw the most exciting set of WHPC events to date! 

The Women in HPC team set off from all over the world a few days before ISC, from as far away as Austin and Denver in USA to Edinburgh in the UK. After a very early start my ISC week kicked off on Sunday 19th June with a bright an early flight followed by convening the WHPC Advisory Board. Hosted by Carolyn Devany, President of Data Vortex, the board as always provided WHPC with inspiration and amazing advice and once again ran out of time! There is so much we all want to do that we can never get through everything!

Day one: the kick-off!

On Monday, the first day of the conference, WHPC hit the show floor: walking around discussing the need for diversity in the HPC community. The PRACE booth hosted a discussion ‘Why Women in HPC?’ running from the planned 10 minutes to a full 40 minute discussion. What a fantastic way to start the week!

Day two: Discussing the challenges of recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce


The WHPC ISC2016 BoF (L to R): Alison Kennedy (STFC Hartree UK), Jacqueline Chen (Sandia National Laboratories), Carolyn Devany (Data Vortex), Toni Collis (WHPC and EPCC)

On Tuesday of ISC week WHPC started the Exhibition Hall BoFs off with a discussion on diversifying the HPC workforce. It should be a tough time slot to fill, but our discussion appeared to gather a lot of interest from those passing the booth.

Chaired by Alison Kennedy (Hartree Centre, UK), I gave the first talk of the session, providing an introduction on unconscious bias, what it is and why we should all take notice of the effects it can have. Unconscious bias is often a controversial subject to bring up, but given the number of questions and follow up emails since, it is a topic that people are very interested in. Jacqueline Chen (Sandia) then took the stage discussing the importance of mentoring, leadership and coaching in workforce development, and what Sandia has put in place to retain a diverse workforce. The BoF finished with Data Vortex President, Carolyn Devany, discussing the need for diversity at the executive level and finished the BoF with the most inspiring quote of the ISC week:

“This community is charged more than any other for responsibly charging our future course
and the preservation of the planet. Women are in it for the long haul – we play an extremely important role in this.”

Day three: A celebration of women in high performance computing

How do you top attending a great conference, meeting great like-minded people and discussing all the topics (technical and otherwise) closest to your heart? By attending a celebration with food, wine and great discussions!

Our first ever WHPC party was a lunchtime celebration that brought together our supporters, the women we hope our benefiting and those who are interested in helping us keep discussions going. It was a fantastic event, kindly sponsored by Data Vortex, IBM, DDN, Prace, Intersect 360, Seagate, HPCWire, EPCC, XandMcMahon and our Keynote Sponsor

The best gift bags you will ever get at an HPC event.

Intel. We hard from the fantastic Marie-Christine Sawley who consistently inspires those around her to pursue technology careers and challenges us all to improve the proportion of women in our field.

Finishing off a fantastic lunch we gave out the best gift bags you will ever have received at an HPC event including purse hooks, a phone wristlet and lip balm!

Day four: Finishing the final day of ISC with a fantastic workshop


The ISC 2016 WHPC Workshop panel

The ISC 2016 WHPC Workshop panel. L to R: Alison Kennedy TFC Hartree), Figen Ulgen (Intel), Deb Agarwal (LBL), Lorna Rivera I-STEM, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

The forth international WHPC workshop started with Lorna Rivera of Georgia Tech (formally University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and myself discussing how to improve diversity, what the challenges are and common misconceptions. This included how to combat criticisms of actions taken to improve diversity such as ‘we have to focus on hiring the best no just women’ or ‘recruiting women and minorities diminishes opportunities for white males’. If you want to know how to handle comments such as these yourself, don’t forget to check out the video by our media sponsor InsideHPC: http://insidehpc.com/women-in-hpc-at-isc-2016-video-gallery/.

The workshop also provided interesting discussion from the panel including a discussion on the hot topic of ISC week: is an all-female student cluster competition team a good or bad idea. With no conclusive answer, it is clearly a hot topic for future conferences. The workshop finished by highlighting the work of three fantastic PhD early career women (available online here) and then breakout sessions providing mentoring and a discussion on how to recruit more women.

What’s next?

After a hard week you would think we would be ready to take a well earned break! Well although this particular woman in HPC did take some sorely needed time off after such a busy week, WHPC is already planning the rest of our events for this year. Registration for our UK event is already open (bit.do/2016-hpc-careers) and we have much more planned for Supercomputing in November! Keep reading this blog for more details!

A very big thank you to our supporters

Our events at ISC would not have been possible without the fantastic support of many people, companies and organisations. In particular we would like to thank the following companies and organisations:

  • Dr. Toni Collis


  • Toni Collis is the Director and founder of the Women in HPC, as well as an Applications Consultant in HPC Research and Industry at Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC), UK. Within EPCC her role includes providing technical expertise on a range of research projects using HPC in academic software, from engineering to biology. Toni has a PhD in computational condensed matter physics as well as an MSc in HPC and an MPhys in Mathematical Physics.

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