The MEEP project aims to build inclusive communities. Diversity is an added value for the team to work effectively in synergy. Consequently, a 'Women in STEM' series of interviews has been created to feature all the amazing female scientists who work in MEEP and their paths into science.
What was your motivation for choosing your career path? How did you become interested in engineering and HPC?
It was a tough moment when I needed to decide what to study. I asked myself, what to do? At the moment, I didn't know what to do, so I am not an engineer by vocation. However, it was clear to me what I wouldn’t like to study. So, within all the possibilities I had in front of me, I started to discard options. I did my election by dismissing what I didn’t want and based on what I thought I could like most. Telecommunication Engineering was the winner. I didn’t understand what it meant then, except I could learn about technology and move in the same changing direction as the world. Lucky me… I have never regretted my decision.
During my studies, I was exposed to research in hardware design. Since then, I have been related to research in one way or another. I like to have the freedom of exploring, figuring out how to solve problems and adding value to society.
High-Performance Computing is not a novel topic. Its presence has grown in relevance and urgency over the last two decades. Nowadays, supercomputers can solve complex problems and offer answers to unknown questions in seconds, days, or weeks… instead of years! In this direction, one year ago, BSC brought me the possibility of moving closer to one of my dreams by working on a tangible MEEP project with a real and direct impact on society. The outcomes won’t be immediate since research and engineering developments are a path in which we are taking baby steps to move forward. And the journey is challenging and exciting!
Have you encountered or faced any challenges while working in STEM?
This is a very good question! Of course, yes! Every professional faces challenge in her/his professional career. I'm not talking about gender but about interprofessional relationships, technical problems, frustration, failure, uncertainty, and expectations. All of them are part of us in one way or another.
If I have encountered additional challenges due to my gender? The answer is once again "yes". During my studies and career, the number of women has always been much lower than that of men. However, I have always felt like a member of the team wherever I have been. At least, I have never been aware of any gender discrimination. So what do I mean by answering “yes”? I mean that because of my own bias. Most of them are unconscious, but… there they are. Sometimes they are inherited due to my culture, education, or society; sometimes, they are because of my own experiences. No matter why, when, or how those biases are, what matters is their impact and how to overcome them.
In my case, I have been my own worst enemy many times. I don't have to look out there to find people to blame. I have to look inside of me. Why do I still get surprised when I hear that one woman is the CEO of a company or similar things? When I'm aware of this, I try to change my mind and say, "Great! Why not? Good job!" We must go through a re-educational process, starting from the youngest and moving forward to the adults, or even better, starting from the adults and moving down in ages to the youngest generations.
What do you do within the MEEP project? How has this experience impacted your career?
As part of the MEEP project, I have the role of hardware coordinator. That means I have the responsibility of supporting the different teams on the hardware side, in all that they need, from a technical and personal point of view. In addition, I have to provide guidance on the technical side and checkpoints, identify potential risks, and look for solutions and contingency plans. Furthermore, I am also here to learn from all the professionals involved directly or indirectly in the project. Thanks to the MEEP project, I can improve my knowledge, meet great professionals and improve my skills.
What are your achievements while working on MEEP?
MEEP progress took place in the middle of the pandemic. The whole team is new, and most of us have not met face to face anytime yet. Different personalities, different cultures, different habits… plus a new project, new infrastructure, full remote work… All MEEP teams are facing a lot of challenges. However, I’m proud of all of them. One of my main achievements that fall once more on all the individuals' shoulders that participate in the project, and also in other BSC projects, is to have a group of people that, little by little, day by day, is evolving into a team. All together are getting things done following the expectations of the project.
Where and how do you see MEEP technology developed 5 years from now?
The whole team is making an effort to position MEEP as a reliable platform, with a whole SW and HW open stack, and able to be used in any of its functionalities: (1) a Software Development Vehicle (SDV), and (2) pre-silicon validation platform. MEEP will mature in the following years, and the current project is only the beginning, the first step to getting something better and bigger.
- What do we want to get with MEEP? This is our starting point. We want to deliver an open-source platform for developing applications and hardware for HPC. Thus, we want to offer a whole toolchain stack that covers SW and HW. Then, the final user will decide how to take advantage of them depending on their expertise in software or hardware. One option will be to use MEEP as an SDV. Another one will be to use it as a pre-silicon validation platform.
- Why do we want it? In the open-source ecosystem, a lot of activity exists on the high-level layers. However, as soon as you move lower down and closer to the hardware (devices), the tendency changes significantly. Some initiatives indeed try to alleviate this, and RISC-V is a powerful example. There are other examples of this, such as projects focused on providing free, open-source CAD tools to support the design development in hardware. Even though it continues to be complicated to pre-validate a design. Of course, FPGAs are suitable devices to play that role. That is the main reason why MEEP relies on that technology. Furthermore, in HPC, you cannot isolate the architecture from the problem you want to solve. At this point is where MEEP shows up.
- How do we get it done? First of all, we are working on the basis, and then we will build on top of it. Hopefully, MEEP’s technology will be used in future projects. By that, it will improve its robustness, reliability, and flexibility… and those projects’ feedback will also help identify/add potential features to the platform.
Do you have any advice or message for young girls and women pursuing STEM careers?
I would like to see an increase in the number of people interested in STEM. It is curious to see how the percentage of students in STEM has decreased in these 10 years, whereas technology is growing rapidly. What are the main reasons behind this imbalance? In my personal opinion, we have to improve (all the actors in the STEM environment) communication skills, to let new generations know the importance and impact of what we do, adapt our speech by simplifying explanations (whenever possible), use examples close to our daily routines, and wake curiosity (Why is that happening?, what is that?, how does that work?, how can I solve that challenge?).
In Engineering, gender is an issue. I am referring to the ratio of men vs women, nothing further than that. Why does this happen? I think there are cultural and educational biases present. Historically, men dominated engineering, even the way the information is presented, developed… Again, we have to improve our communication skills.
If someone wants to follow a STEM path, the only thing I can say is, “go for it!”, “do not let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. You are the one who knows where/what you want to be in the future. Are you willing to overcome the challenges you will find on the way?”. The only failure in life is to stop doing/starting something because of fear. There are only two possible results in life, you succeed.. or you learn!