WHPC-SA BoF Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC) National Meeting 2018

Khomotso Maenetja,  University of Limpopo, South Africa

This was my second time hosting BoF session for Women in HPC South Africa at Centre for High Performance Computing; it has ran for 3 years.

It was a more relaxed kind of setup, whereby everyone who attended the session could participate. Surprisingly, we had a number of men who attended this session about 40 % or so and they were actively involved. The programme was designed in a way that we had a panel which comprised: Trish Damkroger, a Vice President and General Manager of the Extreme Computing Organization in Intel’s Data Center Group); Weronika Filinger, the HPC Applications Developer of EPCC, the University of Edinburgh and Kirti Devi a Technical Marketing Manager in Intel’s Communication Infrastructure Group.

The panelists introduced themselves, by giving a brief background of what they do, where they come from, career-wise and the challenges they are facing as women in High Performance computing especially in management. These introductions were followed by an interesting presentation from Weronika, which triggered a lot of interest and questions. She spoke about networking, work-life balance, psychological resilience and some of the available resources. From there on the floor was open for discussion, whereby most of the questions that came from the floor was mainly driven by the presentation given and of course the introduction of the panelists. The issues that were addressed which I would say were the highlights of the session were:

  • Networking(women find it difficult to network, especially if they have to do it with men without having to worry about sending ‘wrong signals’)
    • Personally, I think twice before approaching a potential collaborator (male/female), what goes through my mind is: Am I going to be relevant? How do I make my interest more appealing without boring him? Having to approach funders is even worse, I mean how do I approach a person and say I want your money without a proper written proposal…
    • Networking is a serious challenge but after the discussions we had, I’d say, networking is not so bad and it is not wrong to end the conversation if it doesn’t interest me.
  • Gender Equality– some men think women are given a priority even if they are not as qualified as required for a job for example. Women think for the mere fact that they’re women, they are pushed aside or have to work twice as hard to prove their capabilities.
  • Work-life balance– we tend to find it difficult to say ‘No’.
    • No to working beyond the expected time like over the weekends or till very late
    • Compromise your resting time (leave days) to impress your boss
    • Force to go to work even when you are sick

The discussion was broad and very interesting, but some of the aspects that we wanted to address but due to time constraints we could not cover was, how to get women interested and retaining them in HPC. Which is a very important subject, because we are beginners, still trying to get on our feet. Looking at student cluster competition which is the cream of this conference has very few girls which still poses a challenge that we need to go back to outreach and community engagement and spread the world that women in HPC is the future.

The session was organised by Khomotso Maenetja & Sylvia Ledwaba.

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