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mike lam

As an associate professor of computer science at James Madison University (JMU), Michael (Mike) Lam is accustomed to connecting with students of all types. In addition to teaching courses primarily related to HPC, programming languages, and systems, Lam actively supports various student resources and outreach mechanisms, including serving as chair of the Department of Computer Science (CS) Wiki, a student transfer advisor, co-director for the madiSTEM conference (for girls in grades 6-8), and co-advisor for numerous JMU CS clubs. Perhaps, it is this dedication to mentorship and service in computing that also has made Lam an integral part of several Students@SC programs. For two years, he chaired Mentor–Protégé Matching (SC20 and SC21), managing to enhance connections even amid COVID. In 2022, he was part of the Student Programming committee. Today, he serves as SC23’s Student Mentoring and Networking Chair. Next year, Lam will step up as Students@SC Chair.

Enhancing Connections

As part of his outreach, Lam actively encourages every SC23 attendee, especially the many conference “veterans,” to make themselves available and open when seeing new faces at the workshops, on the panels, at the tutorials, among the exhibits, or even in the hallways. To Lam, the future of computing likely will begin with those individuals who realize their place in the community starting right now, where they can see themselves and say, “I Am HPC.”

Michael (Mike) Lam

Associate Professor of Computer Science, James Madison University

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

Lam: The first SC Conference I attended was SC09 in Portland, Oregon. I was a graduate student at the time, and my research lab shared a booth on the exhibit floor. The conference itself was such an intriguing experience, and I really enjoyed sharing my work with the community. I’ve returned to SC every year since then except for SC14, which I missed because I was starting a new position at the time.

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

Lam: For SC20, I was asked to run Mentor–Protégé Matching. That year, obviously, did not go according to plan because of COVID-19. During the “lockdown” summer, I proposed and executed a plan for a new Mentor–Protégé Matching component where participants who signed up early were matched several months before the conference and began virtual engagement with guided activities in the months leading up to the conference. The goal was to help people establish new mentoring relationships and grow those relationships even when physical meetings were not possible. This additional early-matching component was continued for SC21 and SC22 and will be in place for SC23 as well. 

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

Lam: Personally, I would love to see less cynicism among computing communities in general. Snark and insults are satisfying to air. It is very tempting to show off one’s technical expertise during conversation by criticizing with humor, but this discourages innovation and experimentation. Keeping conversations positive and constructive requires more effort, but I believe it is an important part of building a stronger and more inclusive community.

Q: Can you share any “words of wisdom” for those new to HPC or curious about the SC Conference and how they may fit in?

Lam: One of the most important facets of an in-person conference is the “hallway track,” a term that is often used to refer to spontaneous interactions between attendees, often outside of (but facilitated by) a formal conference event. These interactions are especially important for the more junior members of the community (i.e., students and early-career individuals) because it allows them to network with others in the community and (hopefully!) to see good behaviors modeled by the more senior members of the community.

As the chair of the SC23 Student Networking and Mentoring subcommittee, I encourage SC attendees to participate in programs like our Mentor–Protégé Matching program, where mentors are paired up with students for one-on-one mentoring. This is a great opportunity to help make the benefits of the “hallway track” a bit more deliberate. I would also encourage all SC attendees to make an extra effort to reach out to students they encounter at the conference and to make an effort to include them in conversations and social interactions.

I will also be the Students@SC chair for next year, and, in that role, I’m excited to help facilitate opportunities for all students who attend SC to feel welcome and included and to maximize the benefits of attending the conference. Students are quite literally the future of our community, and I look forward to working with the rest of the SC24 Executive Committee to build the best conference experience possible for them.

Participate in Mentor–Protégé

Learn more about how you can become a mentor or a protégé. Survey links are now available.

If you have questions about the Mentor–Protégé program, please contact the program committee.

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