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HPC in the (Virtual) City

hpc in the city

Residents of big “convention cities” are used to it. For one week in November, thousands of researchers, scientists, industry and computing center staff members, journalists, and students descend for the SC conference. We take over the convention center, hotels, and restaurants—and then we leave, taking our technical expertise, knowledge, and skills with us. What if we tried to change that?

The purpose of the HPC in the City program, launched by the SC20 Inclusivity Committee, is to engage the community in the SC host city, bringing together a diverse group of residents, students, and local businesses to share in the experiences of the SC conference.

In Atlanta, the committee had high hopes of engaging with the many universities, the local technical colleges, and state and local government agencies. Planning was underway to get local students involved in SCinet, have SC-related speakers offer local presentations, and host a hackathon, which would address local challenges using local data resources.

When SC pivoted to a virtual conference, most of these plans faded away. But Je’aime Powell, Senior Systems Administrator in Data Management and Collections at TACC and HPC in the City liaison, along with his fellow volunteer organizers at HackHPC, wasn’t about to cancel it. “There are so many opportunities available in our computing centers,” he said, “and we need a broad range of skills and students to fill them.”

Powell is an expert at hackathons. He’s held them with local students at TACC in Austin with professors and researchers as a part of PT2050, and at conferences including SC18,  SC19, and PEARC18–20. Each time, he’s learned something about how to better engage the students; when to order refreshments (chicken and waffles at 2 am); how to negotiate with industry partners; and what makes the best prizes for the winning teams (LEGO kits were very popular). “It is a true tribe effort with our partners from Omnibond, Intel, and SGCI. We have become a family over the years with the primary goal of sharing this experience with as many students as we can” says Je’aime.

In 2020, the HPC in the City hackathon will be held the week before the SC conference (November 5–9). This gives the students a chance to learn about the technologies and applications that are crucial for HPC before they participate in any of the SC conference elements, which Je’aime hopes will make the experience a little less overwhelming.

Atlanta has seen its share of hackathons, including Georgia Tech’s HackGT, the largest student-led hackathon in the country. Je’aime was eager to adopt some of the lessons learned from the HackGT student organizers. He has also reached out to city officials to discuss some potential local issues (and data sources) that could be addressed by HPC in the City, including COVID-19, Atlanta traffic, or social justice issues.

HPC in the City is also an opportunity for industry partners, preparing students with skills and technical knowledge for future internships or careers in HPC, data analytics, or visualization. Powell is also pleased that the vendor partners have allowed employees to act as team mentors, giving them direct interactions with participants. “We have heard that several internships have been offered to students, and one participant was offered a job based on the hard and soft skills the vendor witnessed during the event.” At SC20, the students will be trained and have access to Omnibond’s CloudyCluster software, coupled with Google’s on-demand Cloud Computing platform, and compute credits that will last beyond the end of the competition. This allows them to use those credits in school projects later in the year, and makes their research projects that much more powerful.

The students who participate in HPC in the City will be well prepared for whatever the future brings, and they will be setting a precedent for future SC cities, like St. Louis, Denver, and Dallas. “I chose the field of HPC both because of my deep love of anything computer-related and the wide range of opportunities available in this field,” says Powell. “I hope this program plants seeds which will grow roots to support the students and mentors as they progress, and also leaves a lasting positive impact on the cities we have the honor with which to work.”

Learn more about the HPC in the City hackathon and sign up today!

Melyssa Fratkin, SC20 Communications Chair

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