In conversation with Annie Ma-Weaver, Group PM for HPC at Google

Special thanks to our WHPC Communications volunteer, Nandhana, for bringing these interviews together. 

We are delighted to present a short series of interviews with some of our SC’23 Workshop Speakers, starting with Annie Ma-Weaver.  Annie will be co-presenting with Bill Magro on, “Fostering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Big Tech Firms.”  She brings a wealth of insight to the field of HPC, but like many, her career path into supercomputing wasn’t linear.

“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee (Fellow San Franciscan and Chinese American!)

Annie’s bio:

Annie Ma-Weaver is Group PM for HPC, working on products and solutions to enable scientists, researchers and engineers to run HPC workloads on Google Cloud. She has been with Google for 13 years. Annie received an MBA from the Haas School of Business and a BA in Economics and Psychology from Columbia University.

Why did you choose a career in HPC?

I’ve been working with cloud infrastructure for the majority of my career, and I wanted to focus my energy on a sector where I could make a positive impact on the world. Knowing that my work helps advance scientific and technical computing gets me excited to tackle the complex challenges of designing, creating and delivering the needed products and solutions for HPC problems.

What excites you about the future of HPC?

Moving more workloads to cloud computing helps unconstrain the resources needed for leading-edge research and development. I’m confident we’ll see more ambitious and large-scale HPC projects that yield insights to help humanity, as scientists, engineers and analysts more quickly and easily amass computing power.

For example, we worked with Citadel Securities to sponsor a medical research program at Harvard University designed to demonstrate the validity of a novel, minimally-invasive approach to unclogging arteries via a large-scale numerical simulation powered by the public cloud. By leveraging HPC on cloud infrastructure, Harvard researchers will be able to solve some of the world’s most complex calculations and advance heart disease research.

What did you study? How did you begin your HPC Career?

I studied Economics and Psychology at Columbia University and earned an MBA from Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. After graduation, I performed behavioral economics research at the Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia. My work included running regression analysis on fMRI data collected while participants made choices under varying parameters of risk and reward, which needed large amounts of computing power. At the time, I only had access to a single machine and calculations would often take hours to complete, which was quite frustrating. Little did I know that someday I would be helping practitioners like myself get to insights faster.

Within Cloud, I covered our technology partnerships for key verticals, including Financial Services, Healthcare and Life Sciences and Manufacturing. I kept running into HPC problems and challenges in every vertical I worked on. As soon as I identified a key partner, SchedMD, that we needed to build a product integration with, it was off to the races working on all things HPC. I haven’t looked back since.

What are the top three things you would advise women considering a career in HPC?

My advice is more generally applicable to women in technology, which is:

  • Don’t think that you’re not technical enough or that your technical expertise is irrelevant – our field is constantly evolving and every project, partnership and product is an opportunity to learn and go deep. You may not be the expert now, but you can find them and learn from them and you will develop expertise over time.
  • Find and secure sponsors who will champion your work.
  • Identify ways to help others, e.g. be a mentor, connect people within your network, or give junior employees visibility.

What is your most proud accomplishment in the sector to date? 

I recently transferred to Product Management. I leaned on my HPC industry knowledge and experience to transition into a product leadership role where I help define the products and solutions in the Google Cloud HPC roadmap. A mid-career shift can be daunting, but also exciting, and I’m proud of how I’m embracing change and growth through becoming a PM.

One of the products I own is the Cloud HPC Toolkit, which helps HPC users set up and manage HPC systems faster on GCP. A game changer is that you can share configuration via blueprints, or YAML files, with others and they can create the same environment to replicate and validate results. The Toolkit is also completely modular and you can plug in partner offerings like Slurm and Lustre, switch up storage and networking parameters and more, with just a few lines of code. You don’t even have to write the code yourself because we’ve built templates for common use cases. The Toolkit is a really powerful tool and I’m excited to tell people about it!

What are the problems faced by women in the HPC sector? Any advice to overcome them?

I think women in HPC face the same issues as women in technology in general. We are still underrepresented, especially in leadership positions, and many of us are juggling both work and caretaking responsibilities. I had two young kids during the pandemic and struggled to balance work and childcare, so I had to set boundaries around both aspects of my identity, give myself grace when I felt overwhelmed and accept that progress comes in fits and starts and isn’t always linear. It took some time to get my bearings, but now I feel more confident in my ability to deliver as a leader and as a mother.

I love the opening quote from Bruce Lee because it reminds me that, even though we face real constraints, one that we can control is our mindset. We must believe that we have not reached a limit, but rather that we are on a plateau and that we can get beyond it, if we keep trying despite failures and frustrations.

What is your source of motivation/support during difficult times in your professional life?

I’m motivated by my kids, especially my daughter, when the going gets tough. I think about the example I’m setting for her and my son, how I am modeling what caring about and showing up for work looks like, how I treat my collaborators with respect and consideration, and how I persevere despite ambiguity and complexity. I think about what they will tell their children some day about me, and it helps me find the resources within to hang in there.

My husband Jacob is a wellspring of intellectual and emotional support; he’s one of the smartest and sweetest people I know, and I’m fortunate to have him as a thought and life partner.

How to get rid of the gender bias and diversity issues at workplaces?

I focus on how we can improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in our workplaces through identifying and supporting emerging leaders from underrepresented groups, participating in employee resource groups (ERGs) and serving as role models and mentors. I lead by example and encourage others to find ways to build DEI, as we all benefit from a more diverse workforce.

What is the best thing about working at Google? Any advice for people who want to join Google?

Googlers are the best part of working at Google, hands down. No advice on how to join Google! I was lucky to be chosen and I hope others are lucky as well.