This week, Science Node debuts a new, biweekly series that showcases women who contribute to the high-performance computing (HPC) community. We’re calling it ‘Paths to HPC’ to acknowledge that many women do not set out intending to work with HPC and may arrive in the field via non-traditional routes.
By highlighting the women who ARE working in HPC, and the different roles they fill, we hope other women will see themselves – or their future selves – in these profiles and feel inspired to envision themselves in a similar role.
Today, we talk with Sarvani Chadalapaka, HPC Systems Administrator at the University of California Merced, and WHPC Mentoring Programme Director.
What was your path to working with HPC?
I was born and raised in India. As a high school student, I loved learning about semiconductors. Like many of my peers, I wanted to get a bachelor’s degree in engineering and electronics, and communications engineering seemed like the best option for me.
During my undergrad, I learned about the possibility of pursuing a graduate degree in the US. It would not only quench my thirst for further education but also open doors to working on cutting-edge technologies. So I went for my master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Texas Arlington. My focus was on Embedded Systems and Wireless Communications.
However, it wasn't until after my graduation when I started applying for jobs that I learned about high-performance computing. I came across a position for an HPC Systems Engineer and applied for the job. I was hired for the position and started to work on Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture (ATCA).
I did that for two years and then got the opportunity to work with University of California, Merced as an HPC administrator. Many of UC Merced's students are the first in their families to attend university and they come from backgrounds that reflect the richness and diversity of California.
Many of these students have little to no exposure to HPC. As administrator, my role is to enable them to use the campus-wide and regional HPC resources. I have been successful in that endeavor, my work is highly rewarding.
With this background, I developed a mentoring programme for Women in HPC - providing a framework for women around the world to offer and receive mentorship in the HPC space.
What do you like about working with HPC?
The most inspiring aspect of my job is when I see researchers—especially student researchers—using HPC systems. They're trying to make sense of this world with their science and they use HPC machines to do so. I feel privileged to facilitate their research.
I like to think that I have found “My People” in the campus community here at UC Merced and more broadly in the HPC community.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in following this path?
Like many students at UC Merced, I hold multiple identities: I am a female (working in a male-dominated field); I am an immigrant; and I am a minority. It was not always easy to find a role model with whom I could identify. I am delighted to share my story here—hopefully someone out there will think, "Hey, if she can do it, I can too!"
Any mentors or role models you would like to thank?
Of course! I have (and had) mentors EVERY.STEP.OF.THE.WAY. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today!! THANK YOU all.
Thank you Amma (my mother), for cultivating my sense of curiosity and teaching me how liberating knowledge can be.