Reflections from a SCinet Student Volunteer

By Sushma Yellapragada

March 10, 2020

HPCwire ran into one of the hardworking and capable SciNet student volunteers at the SC19 event, Sushma Yellapragada, and invited her to share her experience with our readers. Shout out to all the committed HPC professionals wearing multiple hats and running strong volunteer and engagement programs! May this story reaffirm your efforts and inspire the next generation of STEM & HPC professionals.

Last week, a notification on my phone said SC20 was ready for submissions and it reminded me of my awesome experience as a SCinet student volunteer at SC19 held in Denver, Colorado, a few months ago. For those who aren’t familiar with the SC Conference series (aka the Supercomputing Conference), it is supermassive, supercool and people present their work that sounds almost supernatural.

SCinet, in particular, is a team of volunteers that provide powerful network infrastructure for attendees and exhibitors to display HPC research at SC. It has about 16 sub-teams that manage everything from Power to Logistics to Helpdesk. All the volunteers arrive a week or two ahead of the conference, and for the first few days, we all worked towards setting up fiber optic cables on the exhibit floor. These cables are later used by exhibitors to connect their equipment and demonstrate high-performance applications. A map detailing the network layout with instructions on different types of fibers and their connections to the NOC (Network Operations Center) was provided and we laid out a total of 66 miles of fibers. You have to carefully tape them down to the floor every half meter (goodbye knees) and all of this is happening in the middle of people laying carpets, fixing lighting and moving heavy goods. So, no matter how hard you try there will always be a forklift that will run over your fibers. It becomes more stressful when you are told how delicate and expensive these fibers are. In fact, the total infrastructure utilized by SCinet (hardware, software, services) sum up to be $80 million!

After the fiber installation, I was assigned to the SCinet communications team which develops content for the conference program guides, press releases and collects online content during the conference. I worked on interactive kiosks and scheduling live interviews. The team was very organized, creative and supportive. Truly, the entire team of SCient is very friendly; it’s the most diverse team I’ve ever been on, but never felt the language/culture barrier. We all shared the same excitement when we hit a record-shattering bandwidth of 4.22 TBps and the same upset when the fibers were run over.

There are many perks to being a SCient student volunteer! A “SCinet only” booth in the conference hall is stacked up with snacks, fancy dinners, and a suite with games and drinks for the team to hang out after a busy day. 

My highlight from the week has to be meeting Jensen Huang! I was so starstruck I barely said Nvidia is awesome (I should’ve asked for a job). I met popular HPC figures whom I follow on Twitter, professors I admire and some powerful women in HPC. Listening to their talks and walking across research posters encouraged me to work towards advancing scientific research and build systems that redefine computing standards. I attended sessions on parallel programming, runtime environments, simulation and optimization of large-scale parallel applications which all helped me look at computing problems from a new perspective. There were also programs designed especially for students like resume building, elevator pitches, Job Fair, cluster competitions and whatnot. At the time I was working for an open-source company with all remote employees from different parts of the world. It was unreal to finally meet people I have been having Zoom calls with, every week! 

To sum up, being a SCient volunteer requires you to be energetic, proactive, precise and a multitasker. I had to run errands and cover a co-located event as a photographer one day. The entire team is on the go till the teardown when everything that has been put up through the week is taken down in less than two hours. Everything I did as a SCinet student volunteer was productive and fun. Getting such an opportunity is highly competitive and it was worth applying three times. My suggestion to future volunteers is to prioritize their interests carefully so they don’t miss their target sessions as so many are all running in parallel. Also socialize and network because you will learn something new every time you talk to a student, professor or researcher at SC. By the end of the conference, I realized that all I ever knew about HPC was only the tip of the iceberg. 

Thanks to SC and SIGHPC for introducing me to HPC, I cannot wait to start my career in this direction. Special thanks to all the sponsors without whom a lot of us students would not have received the financial help required to attend the conference. I hope I’ll eventually have a Ph.D. and will have an opportunity to maybe deliver a keynote presentation at SC someday! 

Author Bio

Sushma Yellapragada is a recent university graduate with a Bachelors’s in Computer Science Engineering from India. While in school, she interned with big and small companies as a data analyst, cyber risk analyst, and web developer, but since her participation in the Supercomputing Conference (2017), she has become interested in studying high-performance computing and solving scientific problems. She enjoys open source projects and has contributed to Singularity, which is a container platform for HPC environments. Sushma was a recipient of SIGHPC student travel grant for PASC Conference, and also a Diversity Scholar at Kubecon EU.

She would eventually want to see herself involved in HPC Research and Development, and supporting the deployment of intensive workloads. Her wish is that the computer science community works together to make computing resources equally accessible and promotes interdisciplinary research. Outside of work, she likes music, traveling and learning new languages. 

 

 

 

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