A Conversation with Women in HPC Director Toni Collis

By Tiffany Trader

January 6, 2017

In this SC16 video interview, HPCwire Managing Editor Tiffany Trader sits down with Toni Collis, the director and founder of the Women in HPC (WHPC) network, to discuss the strides made since the organization’s debut in 2014. One of the most important takeaways from our conversation is that Women in HPC is for everyone. As Collis says, “It is not just for women in HPC; it is about women in HPC. It’s for the entire community to move forward and to recognize that by building a diverse workforce, we improve scientific output.” An applications consultant in HPC Research and Industry in the EPCC at the University of Edinburgh, Collis has been named Inclusivity Committee Chair for SC17.

 

HPCwire: Hi Toni, first of all, allow me to congratulate you on your recent HPCwire award wins. You received both “The Readers’ and Editors’ Choice for Workforce Diversity Leadership Award” and “The Readers’ Choice for Outstanding Leadership in HPC.” This is a testament to what you and Women in HPC have accomplished. Can you tell us how Women in HPC got its start and what your mission is?

Toni Collis: Women in HPC was started when we realized that nobody was looking at the representation of women in our community. Many of the more traditional fields have huge resources put into addressing the under-representation of women and other groups but nobody was looking at it in our field. Partly because we are part of computer science, we’re part of physics, we’re part of chemistry. But we have our own unique challenges. So that’s where it came from when I realized no one else was looking at it.

When we set out, we set out to find out what the problem was. And what we’ve realized is it’s not just about what the problem is; it’s now far more about building fellowship and advocates and building this message of “let’s move the representation of women forward, let’s put it on the agenda and make it part of what HPC is currently caring about.”

HPCwire: Who is Women in HPC for and how can people get involved?

Collis: Women in HPC is for everyone. And that’s one of the things I’m incredibly passionate about. It is not just for women in HPC; it is about women in HPC. It’s for the entire community to move forward and recognize that by building a diverse workforce, we improve scientific output. So this is about everybody; it’s about the benefits to our community and it’s also about giving women who are here the support and fellowship that they don’t receive if they don’t know any other women. So a lot of what I do is for example connect women with other women so they have a mutual network of support, which men with lots of male colleagues have automatically.

HPCwire: There are a lot of different ways that women can get involved in HPC – it’s not just in computer science and engineering, right?

Collis: Absolutely – I think one of the fascinating things we’re finding with the research we are doing to explore where women are and where they come from into the HPC community is that women seem to be more likely to take an unusal route – they are not just coming from a computer science program and have a PhD in a computer science. For example, I’m a physicist. Physics is a fairly common route into HPC, but there are many many women who have come from history and geology and meteorology who are moving in, and it’s about making everybody aware that you don’t have to be a computer science graduate; you don’t even have to have a PhD. Sometimes you don’t even need to have to have a first degree. It’s about recognizing that everybody has a place here; everybody has something to contribute irrespective of where they come from. What matters is your passion for HPC and what you can contribute now, not your scientific background or lack thereof.

HPCwire: What has the momentum been like and the progress been like for Women in HPC over the last three years? It seems every SC and ISC, WHPC has a larger and larger presence.

Collis: Indeed. I will be honest that when we set out in early 2014 with our launch in Edinburgh, we intended this to be a UK community. We did not expect to go international. We did come to SC14, but really because it was the sensible thing to do — this is where a huge number of people will be, both from the UK and the world. And then we realized that everybody wanted this, not just the UK, and so we have grown from strength to strength. At SC14, we had one workshop and one BOF. This year at SC16, we’ve had a workshop, we’ve had two BOFs, we’ve had several panels. And we’ve been talking at booths across the show floor, raising awareness of the message. And I’m delighted to say that there are now inclusivity and diversity messages embedded in both the ISC program in Frankfurt and SC program as well. That’s testament to the fact that this is a growing community, a growing interest of the HPC environment that we all need to be taking care of this.

What we are hoping to do going forward is provide more activities outside the SC and ISC shows as we recognize that many of the people we are trying to reach don’t have the opportunity to come to these conferences. And actually coming to events where they build their networks is one of the single most important activities for career development – building your network and building your connections – so we do need to provide activities going forward at small events around the world, and that’s something I’m hoping to develop further in 2017.

HPCwire: So as you said, you had a lot of different activities here. You had your workshop, your networking event, your BoFs. Can you share some highlights from those events?

Collis: This is the first time we’ve run a full-day workshop and I admit we had concerns. We were competing with the technical program; do people really want to take a whole day out of the technical workshop and technical tutorial program to spend it with Women in HPC? The answer was a resounding yes. We structured two key core messages in our workshop which we then continued as the week went on in our other activities. The first message has been for early career women to give them the skills, give them the confidence to move forward.

I think a lot of the time we talk about how we need to give women more confidence as if they’re broken, but actually part of the issue is when you’re in a male-dominated environment the reason you need confidence is sometimes it’s incredibly stifling to be in a male-dominated environment, and I think a lot of us who’ve been in this community for a while have forgotten that. The story I always like to tell at this point is of a male colleague of mine who walked into a BoF on Women in HPC a couple years ago and promptly walked out again, telling me afterwards that he felt uncomfortable. He didn’t walk back in until I walked in with him. I think a lot of the time we forget how it feels early on in our careers to walk into a room full of men when you’re the only woman in the room. So our early career program is about helping women feel like they belong at SC, giving them the skills to thrive in a community where they might not feel like they belong.

The other item that we covered extensively in our workshop was methods that work for employers to improve diversity because if we’re talking about this but we’re not offering advice we’re not going to change anything. So we’ve talked a lot about hiring practices, we’ve talked about biases, both explicit and implicit, and the unknown things that are going on – changing culture, embracing diversity in the workplace and giving employers real positive steps they can take to improve things for everybody. And I should point out that when you improve things for women, it really does improve things for everybody as well.

HPCwire: I understand that with everything else you have going on, you are also going to be making an announcement about founding members.

Collis: So we want to work with corporate founding members to recognize the industry sector and all their engagement with what we’re doing. We have been incredibly lucky so far to be supported by industry and what we’re doing because mainly this is a volunteer effort. And what we want to do is work with them to recognize that and to improve diversity as broadly as we can. We have a program that we’re hoping to move forwards in the next couple of months to work with industry partners as founding members of Women in HPC to support the work we’re doing, work with them, to change HPC far more than just in the academic and non-profit sector. It’s moved outside that. Because HPC is fantastic in that a lot of people move back and forth between academia and industry and non-profits so they’re as much a part of that as the non-profit sector is and we want to work with them to move that message forward.

HPCwire: You mentioned that Women in HPC is largely a volunteer effort. Who else is involved in this effort?

Collis: I have a fantastic list of volunteers, far longer than I can recite today. My advisory board in particular from people throughout the world has been absolutely fundamentally important in helping shape the vision of Women in HPC as we’ve grown and evolved because when we set out, we didn’t know what we were taking on to be honest. And helping us with awareness raising, which is one of our single biggest challenges which is to get the message out there, to start this conversation. Our volunteers are crucial to that. Our other volunteers are those who turn up to our events and help run them. To run our Women in HPC workshop on Sunday took 20 volunteers and another 15 mentors. It is a non-trivial exercise and we couldn’t do it without all of those people putting in a non-trivial amount of effort to get them going.

HPCwire: Another big congratulations to you because you’ve also been named the SC17 Inclusivity Committee Chair. This year Trish Damkroger is the Chair for the SC16 Diversity Committee. Next year, the committee program (with a revised name) will be in its second year and you’ll be taking the reins. Would you like to share about how SC is promoting and encouraging diversity?

Collis: The key thing here is that [diversity] is now a core part of the SC message; diversity is important. And [we’re] getting the message across that diversity breeds innovation, breeds scientific output and improves everything for everybody. We want the show floor to be a welcoming place for everybody. We want the papers to reflect the diversity of our community. And at the same time it’s really important to us that we do not dilute the quality of SC. It’s not about favoring one group over another; this is about embedding best practice into our community and recognizing that everybody has something to contribute. Something I was delighted to see happening this year is double-blind reviews in the technical program and I’m delighted to say that they are going to take that forward next year.

We will be doing other things. This year we’ve had child care. We will be expanding that program next year. There’s also a parents’ room. We need far more publicity about the fact that there are facilities here for parents with children. Expanding family day, encouraging more families to come to the show to find out what HPC is all about. And a lot of what the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee will be doing is messaging; it’s about getting the message out, what we’re doing, how we’re counting, measuring and talking about the issues around diversity, talking about the fact that business as usual is not working and we all need to embrace change in order to bring about more inclusivity and more diversity.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

The Role and Potential of CPUs in Deep Learning

April 14, 2021

Deep learning (DL) applications have unique architectural characteristics and efficiency requirements. Hence, the choice of computing system has a profound impact on how large a piece of the DL pie a user can finally enj Read more…

GTC21: Nvidia Launches cuQuantum; Dips a Toe in Quantum Computing

April 13, 2021

Yesterday Nvidia officially dipped a toe into quantum computing with the launch of cuQuantum SDK, a development platform for simulating quantum circuits on GPU-accelerated systems. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized i Read more…

Nvidia Aims Clara Healthcare at Drug Discovery, Imaging via DGX

April 12, 2021

Nvidia Corp. continues to expand its Clara healthcare platform with the addition of computational drug discovery and medical imaging tools based on its DGX A100 platform, related InfiniBand networking and its AGX develop Read more…

Nvidia Serves Up Its First Arm Datacenter CPU ‘Grace’ During Kitchen Keynote

April 12, 2021

Today at Nvidia’s annual spring GPU technology conference, held virtually once more due to the ongoing pandemic, the company announced its first ever Arm-based CPU, called Grace in honor of the famous American programmer Grace Hopper. Read more…

Nvidia Debuts BlueField-3 – Its Next DPU with Big Plans for an Expanded Role

April 12, 2021

Nvidia today announced its next generation data processing unit (DPU) – BlueField-3 – adding more substance to its evolving concept of the DPU as a full-fledged partner to CPUs and GPUs in delivering advanced computi Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Volkswagen Passenger Cars Uses NICE DCV for High-Performance 3D Remote Visualization

 

Volkswagen Passenger Cars has been one of the world’s largest car manufacturers for over 70 years. The company delivers more than 6 million automobiles to global customers every year, from 50 production locations on five continents. Read more…

Nvidia’s Newly DPU-Enabled SuperPod Is a Multi-Tenant, Cloud-Native Supercomputer

April 12, 2021

At GTC 2021, Nvidia has announced an upgraded iteration of its DGX SuperPods, calling the new offering “the first cloud-native, multi-tenant supercomputer.” The newly announced SuperPods come just two years after the Read more…

The Role and Potential of CPUs in Deep Learning

April 14, 2021

Deep learning (DL) applications have unique architectural characteristics and efficiency requirements. Hence, the choice of computing system has a profound impa Read more…

Nvidia Serves Up Its First Arm Datacenter CPU ‘Grace’ During Kitchen Keynote

April 12, 2021

Today at Nvidia’s annual spring GPU technology conference, held virtually once more due to the ongoing pandemic, the company announced its first ever Arm-based CPU, called Grace in honor of the famous American programmer Grace Hopper. Read more…

Nvidia Debuts BlueField-3 – Its Next DPU with Big Plans for an Expanded Role

April 12, 2021

Nvidia today announced its next generation data processing unit (DPU) – BlueField-3 – adding more substance to its evolving concept of the DPU as a full-fle Read more…

Nvidia’s Newly DPU-Enabled SuperPod Is a Multi-Tenant, Cloud-Native Supercomputer

April 12, 2021

At GTC 2021, Nvidia has announced an upgraded iteration of its DGX SuperPods, calling the new offering “the first cloud-native, multi-tenant supercomputer.” Read more…

Tune in to Watch Nvidia’s GTC21 Keynote with Jensen Huang – Recording Now Available

April 12, 2021

Join HPCwire right here on Monday, April 12, at 8:30 am PT to see the Nvidia GTC21 keynote from Nvidia’s CEO, Jensen Huang, livestreamed in its entirety. Hosted by HPCwire, you can click to join the Huang keynote on our livestream to hear Nvidia’s expected news and... Read more…

The US Places Seven Additional Chinese Supercomputing Entities on Blacklist

April 8, 2021

As tensions between the U.S. and China continue to simmer, the U.S. government today added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to an economic blacklist. The U Read more…

Habana’s AI Silicon Comes to San Diego Supercomputer Center

April 8, 2021

Habana Labs, an Intel-owned AI company, has partnered with server maker Supermicro to provide high-performance, high-efficiency AI computing in the form of new Read more…

Intel Partners Debut Latest Servers Based on the New Intel Gen 3 ‘Ice Lake’ Xeons

April 7, 2021

Fresh from Intel’s launch of the company’s latest third-generation Xeon Scalable “Ice Lake” processors on April 6 (Tuesday), Intel server partners Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo simultaneously unveiled their first server models built around the latest chips. And though arch-rival AMD may... Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

CERN Is Betting Big on Exascale

April 1, 2021

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) involves 23 countries, 15,000 researchers, billions of dollars a year, and the biggest machine in the worl Read more…

Programming the Soon-to-Be World’s Fastest Supercomputer, Frontier

January 5, 2021

What’s it like designing an app for the world’s fastest supercomputer, set to come online in the United States in 2021? The University of Delaware’s Sunita Chandrasekaran is leading an elite international team in just that task. Chandrasekaran, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, recently was named... Read more…

HPE Launches Storage Line Loaded with IBM’s Spectrum Scale File System

April 6, 2021

HPE today launched a new family of storage solutions bundled with IBM’s Spectrum Scale Erasure Code Edition parallel file system (description below) and featu Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Saudi Aramco Unveils Dammam 7, Its New Top Ten Supercomputer

January 21, 2021

By revenue, oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world, and it has historically employed commensurate amounts of supercomputing Read more…

Quantum Computer Start-up IonQ Plans IPO via SPAC

March 8, 2021

IonQ, a Maryland-based quantum computing start-up working with ion trap technology, plans to go public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) merger a Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Can Deep Learning Replace Numerical Weather Prediction?

March 3, 2021

Numerical weather prediction (NWP) is a mainstay of supercomputing. Some of the first applications of the first supercomputers dealt with climate modeling, and Read more…

Livermore’s El Capitan Supercomputer to Debut HPE ‘Rabbit’ Near Node Local Storage

February 18, 2021

A near node local storage innovation called Rabbit factored heavily into Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s decision to select Cray’s proposal for its CORAL-2 machine, the lab’s first exascale-class supercomputer, El Capitan. Details of this new storage technology were revealed... Read more…

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

African Supercomputing Center Inaugurates ‘Toubkal,’ Most Powerful Supercomputer on the Continent

February 25, 2021

Historically, Africa hasn’t exactly been synonymous with supercomputing. There are only a handful of supercomputers on the continent, with few ranking on the Read more…

The History of Supercomputing vs. COVID-19

March 9, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a greater challenge to the high-performance computing community than any before. HPCwire's coverage of the supercomputing response t Read more…

AMD Launches Epyc ‘Milan’ with 19 SKUs for HPC, Enterprise and Hyperscale

March 15, 2021

At a virtual launch event held today (Monday), AMD revealed its third-generation Epyc “Milan” CPU lineup: a set of 19 SKUs -- including the flagship 64-core, 280-watt 7763 part --  aimed at HPC, enterprise and cloud workloads. Notably, the third-gen Epyc Milan chips achieve 19 percent... Read more…

HPE Names Justin Hotard New HPC Chief as Pete Ungaro Departs

March 2, 2021

HPE CEO Antonio Neri announced today (March 2, 2021) the appointment of Justin Hotard as general manager of HPC, mission critical solutions and labs, effective Read more…

Microsoft, HPE Bringing AI, Edge, Cloud to Earth Orbit in Preparation for Mars Missions

February 12, 2021

The International Space Station will soon get a delivery of powerful AI, edge and cloud computing tools from HPE and Microsoft Azure to expand technology experi Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire