The Paths to HPC series, presented in collaboration with Women in HPC, showcases the women working in high-performance computing (HPC). Our hope is that by highlighting these trailblazers—and the sometimes unique paths they followed into the field—other women will feel inspired to envision themselves in similar roles.
What was your path to working with HPC?
I started working in HPC fresh out of grad school because, frankly, I needed health insurance. My family had moved across the country so that my husband could pursue a doctoral degree, and I had just finished my program elsewhere.
I was excited to use my training in evaluating health education programs. I had also taken quite a few STEM courses while pursuing my degree so when my boss presented me with the two available projects in the office, I opted for the full time position with benefits which happened to be the XSEDE (Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) external evaluation.
What’s cool about working with HPC?
While I work for Georgia Tech, I currently live in the Bay Area where we call jobs like mine “unicorn jobs.” The amazing thing is that I get to combine my research with my drive to improve equity and diversity in STEM. My work ensures that projects like XSEDE and many others are effectively and equitably implementing plans that improve science for everyone. I know it sounds lofty, but it’s true. I get to seek out projects and work that I find interesting while also impactful.
The amazing thing is that I get to combine my research with my drive to improve equity and diversity in STEM.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in taking this path?
So many. The learning curve was huge. I had never worked in computing, so going from grad school with zero computing experience to evaluating a national cyberinfrastructure initiative was monumental. My imposter syndrome eventually went away but the weight of the responsibility has not—which I'm grateful for.
As a Puerto Rican woman who started working in this community in my early 20s, I also faced discrimination from a small number of people, most of whom are no longer in HPC. I stayed, however, because my colleagues supported me with their public disapproval and by acting to remedy these instances alongside me.
This community is changing, and it makes me think of a saying we have in Puerto Rico that has gained popularity following Hurricane Maria and recent political protests: “Somos más y no tenemos miedo,” which means “There’s more of us, and we’re not afraid."
Are there any you would like to thank?
My boss is both my mentor and friend. Words fail me when I think of how to describe her. The former president of the University of Illinois, Bob Easter, once said to me, “You work with Lizanne DeStefano? She’s a force.” He was right. She’s a constant and committed force for change and critical reflection. I am forever changed by her impact on my life and willingness to allow me to work alongside her.