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Elizabeth Bautista Is a Voice for Diversity in HPC

In this “I AM HPC” profile, Elizabeth Bautista shares nearly three decades of her experience in ensuring accessibility, reliability, security, and connectivity along with diversity and inclusion in HPC. 

Bautista, currently the group lead for the Operations Technology Group at NERSC, the primary scientific computing facility for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Elizabeth’s team aids in providing a central location for problem reporting, diagnosis, data collection, escalation, and resolution to maximize the scientific productivity of users. 

An Inclusivity Powerhouse

Q: What single event most made you realize you wanted a career in HPC/computing?

Elizabeth: I didn’t know I was being interviewed. I was invited for a tour of the NERSC data center but ended up staying six hours and talking to a whole bunch of staff. When I finally got the tour, Mcurie, their latest supercomputer, was recently delivered, and I wasn’t sure if it was even in acceptance yet. However, when I saw the black Cray system with red decoration, it looked like a Christmas present. I had just graduated from my CS degree, and I did my final report on Seymour Cray and his innovations. Seeing one in person was well worth the six hours of talking to staff. Since I didn’t know I was being interviewed, I went home thinking, ‘Maybe someday I’ll get to work in HPC.’ The following month, after I filled out a bunch of paperwork, I got a job offer. Realizing I would get to work on a Cray system, how could I say no?

Elizabeth Bautista

Group Lead, Operations Technology Group, NERSC

Q: What do you consider your biggest contribution to the HPC/computing community?

Elizabeth: The development of our Operations Monitoring and Notification Infrastructure (OMNI) was a big step toward putting heterogenous data into one data warehouse to make it easier to corroborate data from multiple sources. The data is archived and curated with the intention of being used for years to come. In our experience, data is gathered and analyzed, but, once that is done, the data can potentially be abandoned. That doesn’t happen with OMNI. Once we start collecting it, we continue to collect it. We’ve had multiple use cases over the years that have either saved us cost, assisted us in making business decisions, or helped us improve our overall processes using data gathered by OMNI.

The work I performed to create opportunities for minority women in STEM, the work in diversity and inclusion through various committees, publications, and presentations, while they haven’t moved the needle significantly, I would hope that the ideas of fair hiring practices, seeking diverse candidate pools, taking a chance on potential talent rather than solid experience, community building for minority retention, and supporting the next generation of scientists and engineers in their careers, has made some impact in the community.

Q: In the past 35 years, what is the most significant overlooked breakthrough that has impacted the field in your eyes?

Elizabeth: As we look toward the acquisition of N10, NERSC’s next supercomputer, we have to consider innovations in chip technology. For years, the market was dominated by x86 and Arm. Today, companies must write code that will work with an x86 and Arm in order to compete in the market while paying millions to the big players who have kept their design proprietary.

A shift in the chip industry is happening now with RISC-V, a new open standard that can be used by any manufacturer, free of charge. Just as Bluetooth, Ethernet, and wi-fi open standards have revolutionized the industry and made these products interoperable with other products—even though they are made by different manufacturers—RISC-V can potentially change hardware used by HPC. RISC-V chips are now available in small products like earbuds, hard drives, and processors, with about 10 billion of these chips shipped within the last two years. As 3100 members across multiple industry organizations and academia collaborate on the standards through the RISC-V International, how soon will these chips become available as a competitor to the big established supercomputing companies providing an alternative to data centers? I am excited to see what the next supercomputer will be at NERSC, especially if it will be a RISC-V-based system.

Q: What would you like to see change about, within, or among the HPC/computing community?

Elizabeth: Minority women in HPC continue to be a small percentage, especially at the top positions. According to a 2021 study of the representation of women in HPC conferences, ‘women represent 10% of all HPC authors. Representation is particularly low at higher experience levels.’ This study counted all women. Breaking down the statistics to minority women, the number becomes three percent. Counting only Black, LatinX, American Indian, Pacific Islander, and Filipino, the number becomes less than .05%. When I attend an HPC technical conference, I look around and very rarely see my face in the crowd.

I’d like to see a more targeted recruitment into groups that represent minority women. We need to have more minority women in the candidate pool and hope the numbers allow them to get hired. We need to write more gender-neutral job descriptions and job postings to end the idea that women can’t apply to a job unless they are 100% qualified. Change interview practices to remove all biases, not just gender bias. Build transparency in salary policies to minimize gender based pay gaps. And, finally, create a community that supports women and their challenges to improve retention.

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