Serial Girl in a Parallel World

We hear from industry that they're looking for developers with experience in parallel programming. We see a demand for the processing power and speed that can only come from multiple cores working in cooperation, but university curricula, especially in the US, hasn't kept speed with the demand… Parallelism is still seen as something as reserved for HPC, PhD's, and the most devoted of gear heads.

A couple of years ago, Paul Steinberg, Intel Academic Community Manager, had a pretty radical vision - to bring together experts in parallelism and concurrency to help spur the adoption of parallelism more broadly in Computer Science education. After much work, building communication with industry partners such as AMD, NVidia, Microsoft, Oracle, and others who have a commitment to undergraduate education, and bringing them together with educators working to modernizing their teaching curricula, Paul's vision has finally acquired legs of its own.  This weekend marked the first Executive Council meeting of the EAPF (Educational Alliance for a Parallel Future), in Atlanta Georgia.  Sponsored by the ACM with support from Georgia Tech and Intel, the meeting was a chance for the EAPF to work together face to face on our three top agenda items.

Yes, I said our agenda items… how did a non-techy like myself end up "in the closet" with guru Dan Ernst (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire), hacking paragraphs from the upcoming article about parallelism in undergraduate education?  And what business do I have helping define the "bikepaths" of the ACM's upcoming Tech Pack on Parallelism with superteacher, Tom Murphy (Contra Costa College)? Not a whole heck of a lot, but flatterers prevailed; I packed my family off  to Grandma's for their Memorial Day weekend vacation and I found myself on an early flight to Georgia.

Twelve hours later, a gap in the lightening storms let us slip into Atlanta. As I was introduced to my new colleagues the next morning, bright and early EDT, with head spinning, I wondered again, what value I could bring to the discussion? I looked over at Clay Breshears (who floated on the screen of Paul's mac for the whole weekend, like a modern Max Headroom) and figured that if he could manage as a disembodied head, I certainly could make sure I wasn't being a waste of space.

EAPF Council 2010

We broke into working groups, always balanced between industry and faculty, to start hammering on the definitions, objectives, audience segmentation, and content goals.  First the CACM paper… folks drifted in and out of Dan's closet to produce a decent draft by end of day.  Meanwhile, I was able to share some event planning experience, as Matt Wolf (GA Tech) led Ben Gaster (AMD) and Barbara Chapman (U. of Houston) and myself toward a grant proposal for our first EAPF Summit on Parallelism in Undergraduate Education.

TIME!  We played round robin, moving around the third floor of the empty Klaus Advanced Computing Building, each group taking turns identifying our TechPack audiences: Educator, Developer and Student. Until finally coming together and beating out the kinks, disagreements, and gaps as a team.  And it truly was a team effort.  All our different backgrounds and strengths came together to help create something new and perhaps a bit more fun and exciting than perhaps it might have been if it wasn't a mixed group.

Ben and Judith

A quick jog up the hill for a well deserved dinner and finally back to my quiet room for an article review and editing session to be ready for a short Day 2. More of the same at a deeper level technically; I excused myself to the "closet" to be of some use as an editor.  We capped the day with an excellent business discussion and then a dash back to the airport.

So what's my conclusion about being the lay person in a room full of technical experts? Two decades ago, Dr. Alan Hartley,  told a class of undergraduate students that we could study Cognitive Neuroscience and make conclusions about brain function based on the experiences we had --and our ability to think.  Although, I don't have the equivalent of the "brain coloring book" for concurrency, the same holds true for most any subject.  This group of fantastic individuals welcomed me as an equal to the executive council, in spite of (or because of?) my lack of programming experience. I'm looking forward to seeing the fruits of this weekend's work and continuing to be part of this awesome team.

EAPF Executive Council

Many thanks to Lillian Israel(ACM), Paul Steinberg (Intel), Matt Wolf (Ga. Tech), Judith Bishop (Microsoft), Clay Breshears (Intel), Barbara Chapman (U. of Houston), Dan Ernst (U. of Wisconsin E-C),  Andrew Fitz Gibbon (Shodor), Benedict Gaster (AMD), Katherine Hartsell (Oracle),  Tom Murphy (Contra Costa College), Charlie Peck(Earlham College) for your devotion and hard work!
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