“I had the opportunity to optimize one of the codes I use for my research”
 – An interview with Helena Pais

Read more about one participant’s experience in High Perfomance Computing while training at TACC.

Helena Pais has a Ph.D. in Physics with a concentration in Astrophysics, from the Department of Physics of the University of Tennesssee, Knoxville. In 2018, she obtained a post-doctoral grant to work on the neutron star and core-collapse supernova matter at the Centre of Physics of the University of Coimbra, within Prof. Constança Providência’s group. Helena Pais has since then made several missions abroad, in Brazil, France and Germany, until she enrolled in the Advanced Computing Training Program, within the scope of UT Austin Portugal Program, in January 2019. She is currently a researcher within the FCT CEEC Individual 2017 at the University of Coimbra.

Earlier this year, Helena Pais was travelling to Austin, Texas, to start her training program at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). After 3 months, we talked to Helena about her experience and the work conducted in the centre that designs the world’s most powerful advanced computing technologies and innovative software solutions.

– What motivated you to apply for the Advanced Computing Training Program?

I thought it might be a good opportunity to learn new High Performance Computing (HPC) skills.

– Tell us a little more about the research work you conducted while at TACC.

During my stay there, I joined the HPC group. The goal was to understand how to manage a HPC cluster. For that purpose, we installed a virtual SLURM cluster. With that cluster set up, we installed a NFS and NTP server/client, and, at the end, we were able to run jobs on it. During this process, we also learned about installing and creating databases (MySQL/MariaDB, PostgreSQL), building and installing RPMs packages, and finally we installed a tool for collection and analysis of jobs data, TACC Stats.  And, moreover, I had the opportunity to see how the group works and interact. It was a very productive visit!

– In what way was participating in this training program important to your research work? And how do you think it will impact your work moving forward?

During my time at TACC, I had the opportunity to optimize one of the codes I use for my research. Besides that, I learned new software tools that would be useful to manage an HPC cluster. These were new skills I gained and I do hope to be able to put them in practice sometime in the near future.

– How would you describe the experience of living and working at Austin?

It was very pleasant. The public transportation system works, and it is free with an UT ID card. You can also walk and ride your bike in parts of the city. I had also the opportunity to travel a bit outside town on the weekends, but for that it’s advisable to rent a car. San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, some natural parks like the Enchanted Rock State natural park, are all within a 2-3–hour drive from Austin.

– What would you say to future participants of the Advanced Computing Training Program? Any advice?

Make sure to find a decent debit/credit card because of exchange fees, and look for housing in advance, either on Airbnb or Craigslist. This is the most difficult point, as it is quite hard to find short-term rentals, as usually at least a 6-month rental contract is expected. In the sites mentioned above you can find day-to-day rentals, but that makes housing quite expensive. A suggestion for the UT Austin Portugal Program would be to make some kind of arrangement either with the UT Housing or with some hotels.

– What are your expectations for the future?

To get a permanent contract either in Academia or in a company, in Portugal or abroad. And hopefully these new skills I acquired will help me with that task!