Interview: Cherri Pancake on the 25th Anniversary of the SC Conference

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SC13 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Supercomputing conference. In the first of a series of insider interviews, we caught up with Cherri Pancake from Oregon State University to get her take on how far the show has come over the years. You may remember Cherri as the Conference Chair at SC’99. She is currently a member of the SC Steering Committee.

insideHPC: What is your fondest memory of the SC conferences?

pancake.redCherri Pancake: I first attended SC in 1989, to present a technical paper. Back then we used 35mm slides (instead of Powerpoint), and since my paper was about debugger visualization techniques the illustrations were critical. About halfway through, the projector lamp burned out. There I was, using my hands to “draw” figures in the air in order to explain what the audience should have been seeing on the screen. I was young enough to be embarrassed, until I realized that the audience actually became more receptive because they sympathized. That single presentation led to a number of collaborations and friendships. I’ve never missed an SC since.

insideHPC: How do you think the conference has changed over the years?

Cherri Pancake: One of the things that has kept SC so vibrant is that it has evolved as the HPC industry had. In the early years, the focus was definitely “big iron.” In the mid-90s, SC made a conscious attempt to broaden the scope to include clusters and department-level HPC. The next change was to expand the notion of “HPC” to include high-performance networking and storage. And over the last few years, there’s been a growing emphasis on data-driven computation and analytics. As a result of this deliberate strategy on the part of the SC organizing committees, it is able to attract new companies and users each year – which keeps things exciting.

insideHPC: How important is the SC conference to the global HPC community?

Cherri Pancake: One downside of HPC is that we tend to be scattered everywhere, with just a few people at each organization. SC is *the* place to meet up with other people involved in similar HPC work, from around the globe. I can’t tell you how many of my own research collaborations have started through meeting someone at SC who was interested in similar problems. That’s why I’ve been a faithful participant ever since my first visit at SC89 – I get so much out of the networking opportunities.

insideHPC: Which conference or year was your favorite – and why?

Cherri Pancake: I’d have to say SC99. That year I was privileged to serve as conference chair, which gave me a really unique opportunity to work with all areas of the conference and interact with all our different audiences. It was an intense experience, but extremely rewarding both professionally and personally. (I suspect any other former chair that you ask will say something similar!)