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Celebrate Two Women Highlighting Their Roles as Research Software Engineers

This March we are proud to profile over thirty-one women in HPC. Our feature this week celebrates the female leaders who have welcomed the challenges HPC brings to coding – highlighting the role of the Research Software Engineer (RSE).

Part Three of a Four-Part Series

Women have been instrumental in the development of programming languages, algorithms, and computer systems that have revolutionized the world as we know it. The role of the RSE takes these capabilities to the next level, as oftentimes being able to write better code, guarantee that software has received proper quality assurance, and that it is maintained long-term in HPC means getting more in-depth with the actual research. This week we celebrate two women who have welcomed the challenges and opportunities supercomputing provides them in building towards sustainable scientific software for climate research and computational chemistry.

Please read on to learn more about these two fantastic female leaders here in our blog series – but our highlights do not stop here! Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to see all the profiles as they unfold over the month of March.

Accelerating Code & Discovery

Growing up I never pictured myself as a software engineer and especially not working in the field of High Performance Computing. But then, in college, I was required to take a computer science course. It was in that class that I saw for the first time I could be a part of this field. I really enjoyed the way software engineering challenged me to think of problems in different ways and I was attracted to software engineering’s ability to help in many fields. A couple of years after taking that first class I started a software engineering internship at Argonne National Laboratory where I found my career as a Research Software Engineer in HPC, a career I still enjoy to this day.

Sheri Voelz Mickelson

Software Engineer III and Manager at NCAR

Currently, I work for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) as a Research Software Engineer and, along with the team I manage, we work on accelerating weather and climate codes and their I/O workflows to run efficiently on modern and future HPC systems. Thanks to years of experience, I get to use my skills to make an impact within the field of climate and weather research. By accelerating their codes, I accelerate the scientists’ time to discovery. This allows them to explore new areas of science where it wasn’t possible before. What motivates me the most is hearing the excitement in a scientist’s voice telling me about the new areas they can research because of my work.

One thing I’m passionate about is mentoring, especially younger individuals from underrepresented groups. I want to get more diversity into HPC, and having more diverse individuals who are visible in our field is very important. After all, if you don’t see people like you within that profession, it’s hard to imagine yourself in that profession. In my mentoring work I let mentees guide the process as trust is very important. They know my door is always open even when the formal mentoring relationship has ended. Achieving true diversity, equity, and inclusion within our field is a large and challenging task, but if we each do our own part, those smaller individual differences that are made can lead to larger changes collectively.

Writing Satisfying Scientific Code

I got into scientific application development during my PhD in atomic physics, where most of the problems I was interested in require large-scale numerical simulations to be tractable. When my computational needs started to outstrip the capacities of our in-house code, I decided the fastest way to get the features I needed was to write it myself. Writing high-performance scientific code is deeply satisfying to me, and once I saw just how big of an impact my development efforts had in supporting my colleagues’ research I knew that scientific application development was what I wanted to do with my career.

Dr. Emily Kahl

Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), The University of Queensland

Today, I work as a Research Software Engineer at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) focused on implementing new methods in molecular dynamics. Our goal is to make our methods more widely available for researchers. Historically, molecular dynamics is a standard “workhorse” method in computational chemistry and materials science, and the largest public codes are used by thousands of researchers worldwide. This means getting our cutting-edge methods included in those codebases has the potential to make them much more widely available than writing our own code from scratch. And from the perspective of our own research, we study some pretty chunky systems so we need to design our codes with performance and scalability as a first-class concern – we need to spend a lot of time thinking about how to design for modern, heterogeneous HPC architectures.

I believe it is morally right to promote the representation of women and underrepresented groups in HPC. Beyond that, when we remove arbitrary barriers like sexism, racism or transphobia that prevent people from contributing to science based on arbitrary factors, then we all benefit from their contributions. I’ve seen too many brilliant people pushed out of science (and computing in particular) because of their gender or race and, in addition to being morally bad, it’s also to the detriment of the HPC community.  Everyone should take ownership of improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)– not just consider it a box-ticking exercise. And while there isn’t one right way or easy answer, the pursuit of DEI has to be something that’s honestly supported by people with institutional capital at all levels of an organization.

A Continuing Series

Be sure to check in with us next week as we continue our Women’s History Month series. Read all our blog profiles at the tag below.

You don’t have to wait to learn more about the talented female leaders in our community. Simply check and subscribe to our LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram feeds to see even more profiles!  

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