The MEEP project aims to build inclusive communities. Diversity is an added value for the team in order 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 to choose 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 very well what it meant at that time, 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. From that time, I have always 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 been growing in relevance and urgency from the last two decades. Nowadays, supercomputers are able to solve complex problems and offer answers to unknown questions in seconds, days, 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 project, MEEP project, with a real and direct impact on society. The outcomes won’t be immediate, since research and engineering developments are a whole path, in which we are doing 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 challenges 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 my 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 need to 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 the technical point of view, and also from a personal point of view. In addition, I have to provide guidance on the technical side, checkpoints, and being able to identify potential risks, and looking for solutions and contingency plans. Furthermore, I am also here to learn from all the professionals that are involved directly or indirectly in the project. Thanks to the MEEP project I am having the opportunity of improving my know-know, meeting great professionals, and improving 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 falls once more time 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 to a team, and all together are getting things done in accordance to the expectations to the project.
Where and how do you see MEEP technology being 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 on 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, there exists a lot of activity on the high-level layers. However, as soon as you move lower down, and closer to the hardware (devices) the tendency changes a lot. It is true that there exist some initiatives that 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. Further than that, 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, and by that MEEP will improve its robustness, reliability, flexibility… and those projects’ feedback will help also to identify/add potential features to the platform.
Do you have any advice or message for young girls and women pursuing a career in STEM?
I would like to see an increment in the number of people interested in STEM, in general. 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) our communication skills, to let new generations know the importance and impact of what we do, adapt our speech by simplifying explanations (whenever is possible), using 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, Engineering has been dominated by men, 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, or you succeed.. or you learn!