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Profiles in Delight: Bob Freeman

Me and cuppa joeName: Bob Freeman

Job Title: Research Computing Facilitator

How long have you worked for RC?
I just started working with RC in May, so just over five months. Though technically I am part of the RC team, I work predominantly with the Informatics team.

What led you to a career in HPC?
This has been a fun, windy road. For my PhD, I started in research, studying tumor suppressor genes and discovering a new signal transduction molecule called SHP2, a protein tyrosyl phosphatases. This was when it was still a thrill to find new genes, before the Human Genome Project. I hopped out of science after my PhD to do informatics support with science researchers at HMS; I was the first 'embedded' bioinformatics support person at that time. After that, I had the opportunity to lead the first Research Computing Center at HMS. This was preHPC, and the needs were great. But after 5 years, the leadership couldn't agree on how to make this available to their faculty. So I left, and went back into research.

Marc Kirschner, chair of HMS Systems Biology gave me this great opportunity to do evolutionary & developmental biology research on a phylogenetically interesting organism, the acorn worm (the hemichordate Saccoglossus kowalevskii), to understand how changes in this organism set the stage for major evolutionary innovations in vertebrates. How could I say no? It was a dream job -- the research was fun and interesting, and I got to do field work down in Woods Hole once or twice a year.

Having spent 12 years there, it was time to move on. After looking around at opportunities, continuing my hybrid science/IT career trajectory seemed like it could be the most interesting and fulfilling. And the ACI-REF project, of which I am a part with my colleague Aaron Kitzmiller, is a great opportunity to have an impact at the national level. In a sense, this is my next dream job. I'm having a blast!

What’s the best part of your job?
The team and the users. The team is incredibly knowledgeable and capable. I'm learning quite a lot from them! And meeting all our Odyssey users through office hours, training classes, and outreach presentations is a treat. So many talented and interesting people, and I have the chance to meet many of them. It would be fun to look back on a future Nobel Prize winner and say that I met them and helped them jump start their work on Odyssey.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Changing from a single project with intense focus to many projects, with many interrupts has been the most difficult change for me. We have such a complex environment with over 800 active users, over one million jobs run each month, with users doing research on 60k+ cores at 3 data centers - things are bound to go wrong. With such a lean team, we all pitch in to be sure that researchers are able to get their work done and have a pleasant experience doing so. Their success is our success!

What’s the biggest misconception about RC or HPC in general?
I'd have to agree with the previous delight interviewees -- HPC is not simple. No researcher would think of just doing a PCR experiment without putting effort into understanding the way it works and planning the reagents and methods. Same for these complex systems. It takes effort to use costly resources well, and it should be done wisely and efficiently, so as not to affect other people on the system. But once you hit that sweet spot, it's pretty friggin' amazing what you can do!

Given all the research conducted on RC’s Odyssey cluster, is there any one project that stands out for you?
I'm too green to pick one project in particular. It's fun to watch and assist all the projects that people are working on. Since I'm a biologist by training, I find them the most interesting: the Informatics team assisting the flightless birds project; all the de novo transcriptome assembly and functional annotation for non-model organisms; and also seeing the social science researchers take advantage of HPC compute is pretty thrilling.

If you could give RC users one piece of advice what would it be?
Take the time to learn about Odyssey: take a class, read the documentation, come to office hours, attend a workshop, or simply drop in to ask questions. We have an incredible wealth of knowledge and talent here -- it's a shame to not take advantage of it.

Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberry?
Darn you! Trying to pry all my secrets from me, eh? Seriously, I'm not really a Neapolitan kind of guy. Orange Sherbet has always been my favorite, though of late it's been Death By Chocolate.

Next - Profiles in Delight: Maggie McFee

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