Diversity workshop at EuroBSDCon


Diversity workshop at EuroBSDCon

In September, in Paris, twenty-five members of the EuroBSDCon community came together to discuss diversity in the community, in a workshop designed by ACM W Europe members.

EuroBSDcon is the premier European conference on the open source BSD operating systems attracting about 300 highly skilled engineering professionals, software developers, computer science students and professors, and users from all over Europe and other parts of the world. As with many Tech conferences, most of 300 attendees were male and, in the past, there were concerns about biases in the community communications and interactions that may discourage the participation of female members.

In order to bring awareness about the issue, the community leaders have partnered with ACM W Europe to offer a bias-awareness workshop.

The workshop focuses on case studies developed from actual scenarios that occurred in tech communities. After cases are introduced, the workshop participants work in groups to discuss a case of their choice. At the end of the workshop each group presents their reflection and recommendations on managing issues highlighted in their case study. The recommendations typically range from changing the community code of conduct to introducing awareness activities, encouraging individuals to speak out, and putting in place support from fellow members.

Both the community leaders and the workshop participants expressed a strong conviction that raising awareness of behaviours that institute bias is the first and essential step to improve the community.  The workshop was seen as an effective instrument for enabling a change that is needed to support diversity in technical communities and conferences. By considering case-studies based on real situations, the participants have a chance to explore the beliefs and misconceptions that present barriers to diversity in their community and to explore options for actions.

That entices them to generate ideas and solutions that fit their community and helps their community leaders decide how to use resources to bring about the positive change.


The workshop on Sept 23, 2017 in Paris was the second one presented to the EuroBSDcon community, following the first workshop at the EuroBSDcon 2016 in Belgrade, Serbia. As with the previous conference, the response was extremely positive. To quote the feedback from one of the attendees, the diversity workshop concept is ‘brilliant and effective’.

Post-workshop discussions with the participants and the community leaders confirmed that ACM W Europe should continue to offer the workshop and advertise it more broadly. For the next BSD event, we may expand the format to include experts on biases and diversity support in order to inform about general principles that can be useful for shaping community practices to increase diversity in the BSD projects.

Additional information about the diversity workshop at the EuroBSDCon 2017 can be found at:


Attending the Heidelberg Laureate Forum as a Young Researcher


DenizBy Deniz Kecik

The 5th Heidelberg Laureate Forum took place only a few weeks ago, of which I feel the dreamy impact every day on my research endeavors as well as on a general perspective. As a female postdoctoral researcher who is working more on the computational physical sciences aspect, I even felt a sort of regret to not have found out about the HLF earlier, since apparently you may attend once during each career step starting from the Bachelor level. I was very excited since the moment back in April when I was notified about my acceptance to be among the 200 young researcher participants of the 5th HLF, and did not hesitate to share my enthusiasm with friends, colleagues and family at the cost of self-repetition.workshop

HLF is a once in a lifetime opportunity broadening one’s scientific and personal horizon immensely, and such a rewarding, prestigious, and valuable experience. You are given plenty of time to personally interact with the ACM Turing, Abel and Fields Medal Laureates and network with fellow bright young researchers in Computer Science & Math. Listening to the stories of the Laureates like Vint Cerf, John Hopcroft, Martin Hellman, Sir Michael Atiyah, Alexei Efros, Jeff Dean, Manuel Blum and many more along their career journeys, hearing about what it took them to reach that point were life lessons that will stay forever with me. I was surprised by the Laureates’ down-to-earth willingness to share their time and valuable knowledge with the Young Researchers (YR). During the lectures, hot-topic sessions, postdoc workshops and poster presentations, all YRs have been immersed in very intriguing topics such as deep learning in neuroscience, state-of-the-art in quantum computing, future of machine learning, consciousness of machines, interplanetary internet and so on.

The whole week passed in a great atmosphere thanks to the wonderful organizers of the HLF Foundation, opened by the beautiful music of the saxophone quartet, flavored by a refreshing boat trip on the Neckar river, and closed by the amazing view from the glorious Heidelberg castle. Plus, social events, excursions and fine dining were the bonuses! Realizing how wonderful it is to be surrounded with such creative, ambitious, talented and diverse minds from over 60 countries, I could not stop thinking about how lucky I was to be there. I was definitely inspired and motivated to contribute to the woman voice in science and technology in the long run, and HLF taught me that there is plenty of room for this where we all have duties to fill the gender-gap.group1

Looking back, I see applying to the HLF as one of the best things I have donegroup deniz for my personal and career development, and I advise next female YR attendees to truly grasp each moment of it as a precious gift. I strongly recommend that you seize the opportunity of investing in yourself with such a special event and increasing the ratio of woman researchers from 35% to at least 50%.

For having a better idea, you may check the youtube channel of the forum: https://www.youtube.com/user/LaureateForum

Biography Deniz Kecik

I am currently a post-doc in Bilkent University, Ankara.  I received my Ph.D degree from EPFL in Switzerland in 2013. My research is focused on computational modeling efforts for investigating the properties of next-generation nano-materials, using quantum-mechanical simulations in high-performance computing facilities.

Experience, Learn and Share at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum

by Zaineb Chelly Dagdia

Everything starts with an inspiration and a dream. Sometimes things keep popping up in your mind even when you close your eyes; when you go to bed Zainebor when you have a moment of peace with yourself. It just keeps smiling at you and reminding you every moment. You find yourself becoming so attached to it and this is where it switches from a dream to an exciting target. Somehow you know that the target will be difficult to achieve but you also know that you are eager to go for it and to do your best to excel.

My name is Zaineb Chelly Dagdia and I am a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK.  My research career and my journey began with an inspiration; I am inspired by the laureates of all fields, winners of the Abel-Prize, Fields-Medal, ACM-Turing award, Nevanlinna Prize and ACM Prize in Computing. I am amazed by the achievements of the recipients,  this inspiration is what gives me the desire and the strength to work hard, to give my best and to excel in all I do. As a computer scientist, my goal is to make a considerable contribution to my research field; Artificial Immune Systems and Machine Learning. I worked hard to complete my Bachelor degree with honorable distinction at the “Faculté des Sciences Économiques et de Gestion de Nabeul” (FSEG-Nabeul), Tunisia.  I then worked on my Master’s degree at one of the top-ranked universities in Tunisia; “Institut Supérieur de Gestion de Tunis” (ISG-Tunis). There, I completed both my MSc and PhD degrees in Computer Science, also with honorable distinction.  My work,  publishing my research in good and reputable journals, writing book chapters and presenting at leading international conferences has challenged me.  This work was recognized and I was awarded the IEEE EHB Young Researcher First Prize, the ACM-Woman Award and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship.  Additionally,  I am an Marie Skłodowska-Curie ambassador. Through all this, that dream, my target, that inspiration, was hand in hand with me; always pushing me to do my best.

Through that journey, opportunities come in to play.  I,  by chance, met  Christine Zarges, a leading researcher in theory of randomized search heuristics, at several conferences and with a lot of hard work we succeeded in obtaining the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship for me, which made my position as a research fellow at Aberystwyth University possible. It was Christine who suggested and encouraged me to apply for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), as she previously took part in the 1st HLF. Since then I have been very enthusiastic about taking part in it myself.  But hold on a minute!

It is the Heidelberg Laureate Forum!

At this event, the winners of the most prestigious awards in Mathematics and Computer Science, the Abel Prize, the Fields Medal (including the Nevanlinna Prize for contributions in “Mathematical Aspects of Information Science”), the ACM A.M. Turing Award and the ACM Prize in Computing are invited to participate. Oh! That is definitely a great opportunity! I felt like my dream popped up and smiled at me again! Then, I got confused and started wondering “Will I be able to meet the laureates? They are the source of my inspiration. The dream that lived with me and nourished me all the time to go ahead in my career”, “To talk to them and to share with them”, “Will I be able to introduce myself to them and to have some advice concerning my career?” That is what I would describe as a dream come true!zainebgroup

I had to carefully prepare my HLF application to not miss any chance and to not leave any  gaps. At HLF, the selection process is primarily handled by the award granting organizations, supported by the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical StudiesMathematisches Forschungszentrum Oberwolfach and by Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz Center for Informatics. The candidates proposed by these organizations will be reviewed by the Foundation’s Scientific Board, which make the final decision.

When the time came, I received the notification of acceptance which made my day! I was among the 200 most qualified young researchers who were given this unique opportunity to enrich and share the exceptional atmosphere of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. I was very excited about this and I started thinking about this special interaction offered by HLF. But it did not stop at that level as another opportunity appeared. The HLF committee invited all the postdoc participants to apply for the role of an organizer of one of the workshops held in conjunction with the HLF. The workshop topics were suggested by the participating laureates and/or by members of the Scientific Committee.

I found this so exciting and I did not want to miss a chance at being able to work closer and learn more about the laureates; and the chance to have some further interactions with the laureates. I prepared a well-planned proposal for the workshop entitled “Algorithms in Nature” and submitted it to the HLF reviewing panel.  My proposal was evaluated by the members of the Scientific Committee who accepted my proposal. Great! The good news was that for each workshop, there is one mentor, who is either a laureate or another expert in the field of the workshop. That was amazing! I had the honor of having Professor Stephen Smale, recipient of the Fields Medal, as my mentor.

Zaineb-SmaleIn terms of organization, I had the responsibility of defining a structure for the workshop, soliciting contributors (among the HLF participants), defining reading material that the participants of the workshop should read prior to the HLF, and eventually moderating the workshop – all this in close collaboration with my mentor.

Zaineb-Smale2Working together with one of the laureates was a dream and I am so happy that it was fulfilled. It was an honor for me to organize a workshop with Professor Stephen Smale; under his valuable guidance and advice. I was pleased that the workshop went so well and was successful and that I learned a lot from my mentor and I thank him very much for that. Thank you Professor Stephen Smale!

During HLF, I met the laureates, interacted with them and learned from them. That had definitely broadened the sphere of my knowledge and given me insights. Close interactions and panel discussions with the laureates were possible; all were available to feed the spirit and mind. As the laureates are my prime source of inspiration and since it was a unique opportunity to be with them at HLF, I wanted to keep a souvenir from this event; a tangible and a special one. I asked the laureates to write me some pieces of advice in my notebook and I made a very nice collection! I thank them all very much for their time and kindness. I kept reading my notebook and I smiled; that was when my dream, my inspiration, whispered to me and I remembered when I said “Will that be possible one day?”.

Being part of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum was a great opportunity for me to enlarge my contact network by meeting not only the laureates but also a large number of motivated young researchers in computer science and mathematics. Discussions with the forum ambitious attendees enabled me to learn more from their experiences, from their research fields and I could establish collaborations tied to my research field. Meeting the current and future leading researchers is a great chance to shape the future of research in computer science and mathematics.

I definitely recommend young researchers to apply for the coming HLF as it is a great experience to live. It is a big boost to motivation and networking opportunities. This forum offers plenty of opportunities for you, researchers, for growth and it is definitely a not to be missed an event. Do not hesitate and give yourself a chance! Apply and enjoy! And remember that you will not find any other event which will offer you such a chance. Just do it!

And in this concern, my heartfelt thanks to all the HLF organizers and all members who helped to make this event so successful.


Zaineb Chelly Dagdia is a computer scientist who, thanks to her Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship, is currently developing her research on an optimized framework for Big Data pre-processing in certain and imprecise contexts at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK.

Her research interests include different aspects of Artificial Intelligence. She writes on Evolutionary Algorithms and Artificial Immune Systems (AIS). She deals with reasoning under uncertainty and focuses on developing new AIS methods within an imprecise framework based on machine learning techniques and mathematical theories. She also extended her domain of expertise by dealing with Big Data.  Her career publications include good and reputable journals, book chapters and leading international conferences. She was awarded the IEEE EHB Young Researcher First Price, the ACM-Woman Award and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship and she acts as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie ambassador.

Women in High Performance Computing



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Interview with WHPC

ACM-W Europe volunteer Mariam Kiran talked with Women in HPC (WHPC) organizers Toni Collins and Lorna Rivera to find out about the amazing work centered around the WHPC and what more can be done to improve female and minority representations in computing. Here they talk about their experiences in the HPC community.


Toni Collis:

toni    Toni Collis is the Director and co-founder of Women in HPC (WHPC), and an Applications Consultant in HPC Research and Industry at EPCC, the University of Edinburgh’s Supercomputing Centre (EPPC). Within EPCC Toni provides technical expertise on a range of research projects using HPC in academic software, from engineering to biology and teaches courses in the EPCC MSc in High Performance Computing. Toni is also part of the team that provides technical assistance to the UK national HPC service (ARCHER) community to help users port and optimise codes on ARCHER, and the provision of training for ARCHER users. As WHPC Director, Toni is responsible for leading the network, providing strategic guidance on its direction and the events that it runs and is also working on research into diversity in the HPC community. She has been on the organising committee for a variety of workshops and conferences including SC16, EuroMPI 2016, multiple WHPC events and is Inclusivity Chair for the SC17 conference.


Lorna Rivera:

LornaLorna Rivera serves as a Research Scientist in Program Evaluation at the Georgia Institute of Technology Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC). Her work focuses on the intersection of scientific content, pedagogy, and equity with the goal of being both methodologically innovative and socially responsible. Rivera has conducted evaluations primarily funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure. This has led her to work with over 18 universities as well as multiple international high performance computing centers and organizations such as Compute Canada, EPCC, PRACE, RIKEN, and XSEDE. Rivera received both her Bachelor of Science in Health Education and her Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior from the University of Florida. Prior to joining Georgia Tech, Rivera worked with various institutions, including the March of Dimes, Shands HealthCare, and the University of Florida College of Medicine. Her research interests include the evaluation of innovative programs and their sustainability. Specialties include Program Evaluation, Mixed Methods Evaluation, Health Education and Promotion

workshop 2The workshops are definitely raising awareness for Women in HPC. Compared to previous years, do you think times are changing from women trying to make careers in HPC.

Toni: the conversation has evolved quite a bit over the years. Especially at SC16: the organizers put diversity initiatives on the agenda for the first time last year.

Lorna: We are seeing a longer-term support for diversity, which is more committed to solving the problem. What is important is that people who can make a difference are listening and based on our data from the HPC world it is leading to a cultural change.  Specifically rethinking the definition of excellence, making mentors available and nontraditional hires as examples

Have things changed at work now?

Toni: Not quite yet, the proportion has not changed yet. These things take time to percolate the system. It is relatively slow, but important effort is coming about as a result of WPHC. However, we do see that women are more visible now, especially the ones already there. And organizations are making sure that they are contributing and this all snowballs into the younger generation seeing more role models and hopefully lead to improved retention of women in the HPC workforce.

Lorna: We can be encouraged, also, at the undergraduate level. Colleges such as Harvey Mudd and Carnegie Mellon now have 40% female enrollment in computer science. The pipeline at this point is getting better. We can be hopeful that this is growing. Woman are also more vocal, which is good, as there is freedom to discuss. A number of institutions are now interested in diversity issues and want to start WHPC chapters in their place of work. This shows more people are opening up.

We see there are two problems at the moment – increasing entry of girls in computing and second, holding on to the current workforce, which seems to be leaking (the leaky pipeline). In both issues, what do you think are the main reasons for these issues? How can we repair these problems?

Lorna: It is very complex. One of the interesting things to be aware workshopof, is that the perception when women leave their jobs is that they leave workforce. This is not true. They actually continue their technical skills in another field such as healthcare, schools etc. There is also a perception that they leave due to family pressure, when only a small percentage leave all together. However, women are obviously leaving at dramatically higher level than men. Common concerns raised include that women often cite that they  have fewer opportunities or that they are put into roles such as project management. It is reported that there are  fewer opportunities to progress and fewer innovative projects or that they are given a technical task. This constant behavior will naturally frustrate a lot of people. Another thing could be the culture is not welcoming to women and minorities, and then they leave. The environment itself can play a big role. Such as social circles of men going to play basketball, with women not invited, and many more like this. Women will then leave as they don’t feel part of the group. It is a very complex problem.

Toni: I agree with Lorna. This focus on retention also impacts those coming in. A US study says 69% of teenage girls don’t even think of jobs in IT as a career path because they don’t know what it involves. But if they are told what an IT job entails 53% would consider it. The study found that teenagers (girls and boys) want to be paid well and girls in particular want a job that positively impacts society. Therefore reaching out to teenage girls to explain that it can be very well paid and the social impact of everything we do could have a huge impact on the entry point in the pipeline. There is link in talking to girls, impacting society and retaining the workforce. We need to link all of this up.



Your workshops and BoF at SC in 2015 and 2016 were very successful, with myself attending one of them and discussing interesting case studies. In general, do you think we are still discussing the same issues every year? When do you think things will change and what is the ‘how’ needed for instigating change

Lorna: in some ways, the same issues are discussed, but they are important as people, who can make impact, are listening. We are gaining traction and also getting data from HPC World itself.

Toni: We need to have the data that is relevant to our community. More general research is relevant, but we also need to understand the unique aspects of the HPC community. I’m not sure of the timescale, but the workshops will gradually evolve. We are making progress. Across the entire social spectrum society is embracing equality in a way never done before. HPC was historically relying on everyone else, and this is what WHPC has really changed by making the HPC community take a specific interest in equality and inclusivity in this community. The social change brought about changing global attitude towards equality and diversify will help bring about change even faster. As the conversation changes, globally, we bring that positive message to our workshops and events.

Ok a bit of detour question here. How the game is actually played, is about opportunities. Certain persons are encouraged to apply for fellowships, ideas, partnerships. It is often reported that this damages equality opportunities as it is usually heads of department that encourage applications of this nature, which means that they are often subject to how they ‘fit in’, because they look a certain way or are part of the ‘brotherhood’. Then two or three years down the line, when it comes to promotions, you will naturally chose the person who has all the fellowships with his name. Eventually the faculty grows into one kind. Is this a real and systematic problem?

Lorna: we see this in all fields, in education as well, such as most CEOs being white men. This goes back to culture change. Also, discussing how these opportunities are important for change and leadership. Some faculties are changing how they advertise jobs so that they appeal to the non-traditional candidate. It is also important to make sure true sponsors are available from minority groups. I have a great female boss who is an advocate for my work. I recognize people don’t have opportunities but encourage people to go find and make groups to support each other.

Toni: Having an advocate or sponsor is fundamental in bringing about change. Having a mentor is important, but should be someone who is not involved in your day-to-day activities. To address the issue of certain people getting more opportunities often comes down to opening management’s eyes: explaining what unconscious bias is, and how to address it. Women should also be encouraged to try new things: I think we are sometimes so pushed back by the system we need to encourage each other a little. Everyone (women and men) sometimes needs a little encouragement! We also need to stop criticizing opportunities that are explicitly designed for women such as grants and fellowships for women in the workforce, just because they might label us in some way. These are actually very competitive and highly prestigious. As women in a male dominated community we have so many barriers in our way, so we should not feel bad about taking one of the few opportunities that is open to us.

Will you be organizing any future workshops either locally or at SC17? How can more women get involved in these initiatives?

 Toni: We have grand plans for 2017! We will be applying for workshops at future conferences such as SC and ISC. We are also expanding members to have more local events so that more women can take part and leaders can take part. We also aim to bring more male advocates to our events in 2017. WHPC is not only for women, but how to bring about positive change: this requires men to be involved too. We have free membership and encourage all to join. We are also looking for volunteers, to contribute to social media campaigns, contribute to our research and we are delighted to receive offers of help!

Lorna: There are some beginnings of partnerships with academia and industry. But we will have more information on this in the future. We want to do so much more; we are taking this very seriously.

We also want to work with organizations that overlap with our efforts. WHPC deals with HPC, physicists, biologists and medics (not only computing). So we want to share our best practices to work together where we can to bring about change for the greater good. People are supporting each other and this is truly a fellowship of people changing the world, which is fantastic.

7) lastly, imagine you wake up one day and the universe says, ” I give you the day you want, you cannot ask for more money, but I can improve your work and family (general life) day for today”. What you would like your day to look like (in both work environment and family life)?

Toni: my vision for a perfect day would be a day where I knew every single girl and boy has an equal chance of being a CEO or a nurse. Every child, irrespective of their color, background or gender, and crucially their parents knew they could be anything. There would be no concern, only encouragement, if your daughter wanted to be an astronaut or a grumpy professor or a teacher.

Lorna: Expanding this to a culture that recognizes that so that parents and society also accept the change. There will always be a group of people who don’t believe it. Not just equality but I hope for an equitable society, where folks are given equal opportunity for their ability. The tragedy is that we have brilliant people, who are begin overlooked, which is a waste. And we could improve society by having all of these brilliant people solving problems, rather than just 10-15% of them.

To keep up with the efforts of WHPC, please sign in to any or all of the following links:


Inspiring Future Engineers One Blinking Light at a Time

IMG_20160512_100625According to many reports, there will be a significant gap between the number of technical positions and experts needed to fill them by 2020. My belief is that in order to fill these positions we need to start by inspiring kids at younger ages. To that effect, I have developed a workshop on basic electronics targeted to kids 9-16. My goal is to inspire them to try more programming and learn more about basic sensors and electronics.

In the past year, we have held 6 workshops, two in the last week. For 3 of the workshops our participants were from the Greek International School in Munich Germany. Additionally, we held two girls day workshops in Munich (April 2015 and April 2016) and one at womENcourage 2015 in Uppsala Sweden.

One thing I learned is that teaching kids is really inspiring for the trainers, through the experience of teaching multiple workshops, I am building a set of best known methods for delivery of the workshops.


The workshop for kids 9-13 uses breadboard, LED’s, a button and a buzzer to get the kids interested. What we found is that kids love it and since they have seldom touched a motherboard or electronic hardware. Learning about how an electrical circuit works and how to make components work is totally new to most student. In groups of two, the students are instructed how to establish an electronic circuit using the wires and LED’s then instructed to change the program to demonstrate different blinking patterns. Soon students become creative and build something which is not in the handbook. The entire class becomes fun when the students start making their creations. The key learning is how the software program and the hardware work together, for example to change between simultaneously blinking and alternating blinking there is only a small software change to be made. Once they understand this then suddenly the project takes on a new theme.


In the workshop for the 14-17 year old students they are graduated after the first blinking lights to the Seeed Studio Grove Kit. Using the kit, the students have more possibilities in what they can make.


With many different types of sensors and output devices there are many more opportunities to get more creative and fulfill your imagination. We walk them through the setup of a few sensors then allow them to explore on their own the possibilities. At the end of the session we have kids who are very interested in exploring further both programming and electronics. Of the 63 kids that we taught this week, 50 percent were girls, if only a third of them decide to study a STEM field in the future then we have accomplished our goal of providing more technical workers for the future.


CHPC Student Cluster Challenge Team Readies for ISC 2016!

CHPC Student Cluster Challenge Team Readies for ISC 2016!
By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek Nonprofit

SCC-CHPC-Round Rock

One hundred students attended the South African Center for High Performance Computing’s (SA-CHPC) Ninth Annual National Meeting, November 30 through December 4, 2015, at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) International Convention Center in Pretoria, SA. They were there to exhibit posters or to compete in the student cluster competition (SCC).

Since the SCC work space was centrally located in the CSIR venue, their activities were a focal point during breaks as conference-goers transitioned. They had a rare opportunity to rub elbows with experts from a variety of scientific disciplines who are shaping aspects of the HPC industry’s future as the region prepares for the Square Kilometer Array project.

The fourth annual SA-SCC, under the leadership of CHPC Supervisors David Macleod, Nicholas Thorne and Trainer Matthew Cawood concluded with Team “Wits-1” winning first prize. All teams worked feverishly for weeks, and each was deserving of a prize, but the “Wits-1” team (with alternates) was ultimately chosen to represent SA this summer at the HPC Advisory Council’s International Supercomputing Conference (ISC 2016) SCC in Frankfurt, Germany.

CHPC, with its favorable student-to-expert ratio, is the perfect incubator for students’ indoctrination to the technical conference experience. That’s where they are most likely to meet mentors who will continue to offer them encouragement as their careers develop. Delegates who will attend ISC 2016 will be among 3,000 attendees and 160 exhibitors, whereas CHPC hosts fewer than 500 and students comprise about 20 percent of the total. By attending the smaller conference first, they won’t be as overwhelmed by larger venues. Some may be fortunate enough to attend the U.S.-based SCXX conference where the student program reflects fewer than three percent of the total (12,868 attended in 2015). This year’s SC conference will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah-U.S.

The SCC teams first formed in April. Everyone participated in a selection round in July, and received a part list and budget in September. Their challenge was to design a cluster with new parts (within budget), load it with specific applications and make it perform well enough to meet certain benchmarks. Some had never read academic journals or papers before, and didn’t know where to find the most current and reliable information.

Their budgets were funded with South African Rands. Unfortunately, by the time parts were ordered, the Rand took a tumble in value, and the resulting financial gap forced them to make last-minute compromises. In the end, they not only learned how to program and build a functional cluster, they learned important lessons in international business, financial planning, leadership, and teamwork.

The CHPC won the ISC challenge in 2013 and 2014, but came in second to a Chinese team in 2015. So, the pressure is on to reclaim their international title in 2016. It’s clear CHPC’s coaching methodology doesn’t emphasize winning, however. “That’s not to say that we don’t think winning is important, it’s just that we have higher priorities. Our goal is to expose as many students as possible to the HPC field at a time in their education when they can take related courses. This means that year after year we self-impose disadvantages by fielding the youngest and least experienced team in the competition. The fact that we are the only team that does this, yet we’re consistently strong, is the greatest win we could have hoped for,” he said.

Macleod emphasized CHPC’s dedication to gender and racial equity. “This is the first time that an ISC SCC team will have more than 50 percent female participation,” he said. While there has been no compromise on the quality of delegates chosen, the team’s composition is noticeably different. Knowing that racial and gender bias are alive and well, their team is driven to work even harder. “When our team performs well we will have had a positive influence on people who believe that fielding a diverse team means compromising it,” he added.

In February the team traveled to Austin, Texas to visit the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), and to Round Rock, Texas to visit Dell headquarters as guests of Dell South Africa and the Dell Development Fund.


"With help from Dell's Dumi Moyo, we took a side-trip to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) facility in Houston, which was another dream come true!" -- Avraham Bank (U-Witwatersrand, center)

The purpose of the trip was to interact with and get advice from TACC and Dell HPC experts, learn about the latest HPC technology, produce their ISC design and find out what a career in HPC can do for them.

“Scientific computing is such an exciting realm of technology and there is a severe lack of skills in South Africa in this particular area. By partnering with the CHPC on the student cluster initiative we have the ability to expose students to the next level of high performance computing via interactions with TACC and the Dell HPC competency in Austin. The level of enthusiasm the students exude is galvanised once they truly understand that HPC is not only about the fastest cluster or FLOPS but more about solving the challenges we face as humanity. Today Dell’s HPC solutions are at work in universities and research institutions around the world and we’re always excited to help the research community and its customers capitalise on HPC, expanding it from a nice market to a broader audience from supercomputing clusters to departmental servers,” said Brad Pulford, Enterprise Solutions Director, Dell SA.

Dell is the team’s travel sponsor and covers the expense for most of their hardware, and Mellanox provides Infiniband equipment. The team is currently trying to decide between K40 and K80 GPUs. “If they choose K40s, we will have enough to compete with the eight I have, on hand,” said Macleod. “If they go with K80s, we will need a little more help from our friends!”

In their own words…

“The explosion of excitement at being selected to represent Team South Africa and the CHPC Student Cluster Challenge marked the beginning of a journey toward greater opportunity and education. The trip to Texas, U.S. where we visited TACC and Dell’s headquarters was not only a cultural dream come true, it was the academic highlight of my educational development, so far. My current challenge is to find time to train while completing my academic degree requirements. However, I feel so privileged that I’m willing to trade a few hours of sleep so I’m prepared for the June competition, trip to Frankfurt and ISC!”
— Ashley Naudé, Stellenbosch-U

“I was honored to be chosen as a reserve delegate of Team South Africa and feel lucky to have traveled to the U.S. At Dell, we were not only exposed to the most amazing computing laboratory, training and development, they treated us like royalty! We met wonderful and inspiring people and learned much more than we ever thought possible in such a short time. The knowledge I gained was invaluable, and the trip gave me new insight and understanding about research computing, in general. In fact, I’m now inspired to pursue an education and career in HPC!”
— Kayla-Jade Butkow, U-Witwatersrand

“This article reminds me how far we’ve come since our adventure began with the CHPC initiative. From reading about the top500 in November, winning the competition in December, visiting TACC’s Stampede system in February, and watching our group coalesce as a team as we prepare for the ISC, we’ve been on an incredible journey of discovery. I’m already certain that HPC is the field of computer science in which I’d like to specialize.”
— Avraham Bank, U-Witwatersrand

2015 SA SCC Team

ISC Team (and reserves) from left: Andries Bingani (Witwatersrand); Ashley Naudé (Stellenbosch); Bakhekile Ndlovu (Witwatersrand, Reserves); Avraham Bank (Witwatersrand); Craig Bester (Witwatersrand); Sabeehah Ismail (Witwatersrand); and Leanne Johnson (Stellenbosch). Not present for photo: Kayla-Jade Butkow (Witwatersrand, Reserves).

CHPC National Meetings

Presentations and videos from the 2015 CHPC National Meeting awards ceremony are available on the CHPC web site.

CHPC Director Happy Sithole invites everyone to join him December 5-9, 2016 in East London, South Africa for the 2016 CHPC National Meeting, and SADC HPC Forum. Plan to spend extra time while visiting this beautiful region, and be sure to pack your hiking boots! It will be summer in South Africa, and you’ll find some of the best hiking, bird watching, fishing, swimming, and horseback riding in the world.


East-London-Hiking by Adel Groenewald

Photo by Adel Groenewald: https://afktravel.com/57853/nine-things-know-visiting-wild-coast/10/

East London is South Africa’s only river port city. The nearby Wild Coast region has miles of unspoiled, white beaches framed by thick forests that give way to steep, rocky cliffs. The area is steeped in Xhosa tradition, and their farms are scattered along the coast. It’s sparsely-populated, and it’s likely you’ll meet more cows than people. With a favorable international currency exchange rate, you’ll only be limited your energy and time.

CHPC National Meetings, co-located meetings and student programs would not be possible without the generosity of sponsors IntelDell, Altair, Seagate, Eclipse Holdings, Mellanox, and Bright Computing.


Elizabeth-Leake-2013 (2)

Elizabeth Leake is an external relations specialist and storyteller.

She led a nationally-distributed team of 18 science and technology communicators as the U.S. National Science Foundation TeraGrid project’s external relations coordinator. Her engagement with the global eInfrastructure community began when she served as a point facilitator for the DEISA/PRACE and TeraGrid/XSEDE HPC Summer Schools in Catania, Italy and South Lake Tahoe, California-U.S. An interest in high-throughput, cloud-enabled and VM technologies was ignited when she corresponded for U.S. Open Science Grid All Hands meetings and European Grid Infrastructure (EGEE/EGI) Community Forums.

Many of Leake’s EGI stories were featured by International Science Grid This Week (iSGTW/ScienceNode), and CERN’s GridCast. As a frequent contributor to HPCwire, she now chronicles the activities of the South African Center for HPC, Square Kilometer Array Project and Southern African Development Community (SADC) HPC Forum.

Leake is Vice President of the Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group for HPC in Resource Constrained Environments (SIGHPC-RCE), and adviser to Sustainable Horizons Institute. She was program chair of the Southeast Wisconsin HPC Consortium’s (SeWHiP) Data Symposium 2012, participated on Supercomputing Conference (SC) Communications, Doctoral Showcase and Mentor-Protégé committees and was Deputy Chair of the SC14 Broader Engagement Program. She was invited to participate on the “Careers in Cyberinfrastructure” panel at the Advancing Research Computing on Campuses (ARCC’16) conference sponsored by the U.S. National Center for Supercomputing Applications where her presentation was titled “How to Recruit & Retain Gen-X Unicorns.”

She founded STEM-Trek, a global, grassroots nonprofit organization that supports travel, mentoring and professional development opportunities for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics scholars from underrepresented groups and regions. Through its NGO platform, Leake is an industry voice and advocate for HPC-curious scholars everywhere.