Top 10 Things to Love About HPC and the SC16 Conference

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Kim McMahon, Xand McMahon

Kim McMahon

In this special guest feature, Kim McMahon shares her perspectives on SC16.

SC16 starts today – the largest HPC tradeshow of the year. My favorite time of the year and time for me to share with you my top 10 things I love about HPC and the SC conference, SC16 edition.

1. The Energy. Whether you know all there is to know about HPC, are brand new to the industry and/or technologies, or fall somewhere in between there’s one thing that connects us all when we first walk onto the exhibit floor: The energy we feel. And with the plethora of vendor booths (351 of them at the time of this writing) to visit, presentations to see, and technologies to learn about, it’s easy to become part of that energy – the energy that is SC.

2. The Technology. We go to the show for the technology, the engineering, the science, and the math. It’s #HPCMatters and STEM. The vendors are showcasing their technology and the science their technology has enabled. The research exhibits are showing how they are contributing to the scientific process with the largest supercomputers that have cool names. That’s what’s so great about SC: It brings together many of the brilliant minds behind these technologies. Or as my mysterious friend @HPC_Guru says, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.

I will be checking out the research exhibits who are using technology to solve real-world problems. I’ll also be checking out a number of vendor exhibits, especially those that are showing how their technology is being used for science. I’m interested in what the vendors are doing with big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. There have been a couple of ‘sleepy’ technologies that I’ve had my eye on for the last couple SC conferences: FPGAs and liquid cooling. I’ve been watching and waiting to see if they are going to see widespread interest and adoption, and I think this is the year that we’ll see that.

3. The SC16 Diversity Committee. The SC Conference takes Diversity and Inclusivity seriously. This year, they’ve made a lot of progress, and this is just the beginning. Why is this important? It’s about securing the future workforce for HPC. Learn more about the the SC16 Diversity efforts and how John West and Trish Damkroger are driving these efforts.

SC164. Women in HPC. Women in HPC is at their 3rd SC, and this year, they have a full schedule with two BoF’s, three panel discussions, a workshop, and a networking reception. As always, the goal is to bring the HPC community together, provide research that raises awareness to diversity issues in HPC, support to organizations and women based on the organization learnings, and provide opportunities for women to network, learn, and become strong. Check out their event schedule here.

5. The Student Cluster Competition. You have heard this from me before: This is the future of HPC. The students coming together as a team to build a cutting-edge, commercially available cluster constrained by the 3120-watt (26-amp) power limit. The competition is in its 10th year with 14 teams from all over the world. Competition starts Monday, Top500 award Tuesday at 5:15pm and the award ceremony Thursday.

6. Reunion with friends. I counted the number of SC shows I’ve been to, and this is my 15th show out of the last 17 years. That said, I (just like many others) cannot walk the exhibit floor without seeing someone I just need to catch up with. It might be a friend I met years ago or a friend I just made last year; either way, a friend in HPC is a friend forever. The technologies might change each year but the faces and friendships stay the same.

7. Networking. Whether you’re a first time attendee or a seasoned SC participant, networking is – and always will be – an important part of the conference experience. It’s talking to other attendees, attending BoFs, visiting booths, and going to after-hours events. If you’re a first time attendee reading this and thinking to yourself, “Where do I start?” you are not alone! The SC conference is bringing back their First Time Attendees presentation (you don’t need to be a first time attendee to go) Monday at 4:30 where SC16 will be sharing what you need to know in order to get the most out of your SC16 experience. And for you seasoned SC participants, each year brings different events and new people which means more people with whom to network.

8. Elevator rides. Elevator rides? Yes, elevator rides! One of the first things you learn when you work in this industry is your ‘elevator pitch’: A 30 second answer to “What do you do?”. It’s short, to the point and can be used just about anywhere because it’s only around 30 seconds long. And what else is around 30 seconds long? You guessed it: An elevator ride! I can’t tell you how many connections I’ve made riding up and down elevators as we all go to and from events. So practice your pitch on what you do, and be ready for that initial conversation.

9. High Performance Computing. “HPC gets into your blood and under your skin.” I’ve heard this comment time and time again, and I agree: once you start in HPC, it’s hard to leave it behind. It’s also about the HPC community: We support each other. From my experience working and volunteering in this industry, I have found that my work is always met with equal help and support. And I’ve seen it throughout the industry with companies and organizations. Co-opetition: Cooperation and competition combined. We compete but also cooperate, brainstorm, and find ways to help each other.

10. You go home tired and have Thanksgiving to recover. One way I know if I did it up right at SC is if I go home exhausted. For us US citizens, you and I both know that the end of SC means that Thanksgiving is right around the corner… and so is your R&R! However you relax after SC16, just make sure to plan for it in advance so you can do it up right at SC16!

Kim McMahon has performed sales and marketing for more years than she cares to count. She writes frequently on marketing, life, the world and how they sometimes all come together. Learn more at

See our complete coverage of SC16, which takes place Nov. 13-18 in Salt Lake City.