Fermilab goes to the 2017 Grace Hopper Conference

Fermilab CIO Rob Roser chats about Fermilab with an attendee at the 2017 Grace Hopper Conference. Photo courtesy of Tanya Levshina

Fermilab CIO Rob Roser chats about Fermilab with an attendee at the 2017 Grace Hopper Conference. Photo courtesy of Tanya Levshina

Eighteen thousand software engineers attended the annual Grace Hopper Celebration, held in Orlando from Oct. 4-6. Conferences of this size are rare, but this one is even more special: It is a celebration of women in computing! Produced by the Anita Borg Institute, the goal is to “connect, inspire and guide women” who have selected computer science as their profession.

Each day, the conference began with a keynote speech by remarkable speakers such as Melinda Gates, Ayanna Howard and others. In addition, multiple tracks, including parallel sessions, enabled attendees to learn new skills, discuss issues, present their work and make connections.

Fermilab sent a delegation of four people: Chief Information Officer Rob Roser, Scientific Computing Division’s Erica Snider, recruiter Cara Brown and me. For the first time, Department of Energy labs had their own booths. The goal of the Fermilab booth was to make people aware of Fermilab and get them excited about scientific program we have. Rob participated in the Workshop for Professors and Mid-Career Industry Researchers, Erica gave a poster presentation, “Experience with a physicist-developed, collaborative, large-scale software project for discovering the nature of neutrinos,” and Cara networked with representatives from other labs and universities. We all spent time tending the Fermilab booth and interviewing potential summer interns.

The Fermilab booth looked great and attracted numerous attendees. We even had some giveaways — Fermilab-logoed lip balms and car chargers.

Fermilab scientist Erica Snider gave a poster presentation at the conference, on using large-scale software to better understand neutrinos. Photo courtesy of Tanya Levshina

We were busy at the booth answering numerous questions about artificial intelligence and machine learning. We even got the all-important “Where are you located?” Most of the people we spoke with finished the conversation with, “Oh, Fermilab is so cool!”

Another crucial task was to interview people who might be interested in internships next summer. We had permission to view participant resumes and selected about 25 candidates for an interview. During the conference, we added about 10 more resumes of potential candidates. Their level of education ranged from freshman to postdoc. Many worked on pretty amazing projects, such as delivering unused food from restaurants to local shelters or connecting poor immigrant mothers with people who could direct them to where to apply for help. They also had other talents: fluency in different languages, playing musical instruments, competing in different sports. Most candidates’ interests seemed to lay squarely in artificial intelligence — only one of many computing fields in which Fermilab is making advances. We hope to attract interns to areas such as cloud computing, cybersecurity and big data, in addition to others. This was an impressive group, and we plan to make our final selection sometime in January.

Among other interesting things at Grace Hopper was the DOE social. This was our chance to discuss the current status of the recruitment of women among the national labs, where to post resumes and how to attract more women to our workplace. There were rumors that Google was offering position on the spot. Obviously, that makes our tasks to attract bright women even more difficult.

We ran out of chargers by Friday morning.

Tanya Levshina is the head of the SCD Scientific Distributed Computing Solutions Department.