Faces of HPC: Eilidh Troup
Eilidh has a background in genetics but moved to working in HPC after realising that she didn’t like lab work and that she wanted to do something more interesting than basic programming. Eilidh has a daughter that she is encouraging to embrace science and programming.
Eilidh works as an Applications Consultant in EPCC at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked on a variety of software development projects, including making HPC more accessible to people who aren’t familiar with parallel computing and setting up databases. Her background in Biological Sciences continues to enthuse Eilidh and she particularly enjoys working on projects with a biological focus. Outside of work Eilidh has a young daughter that she hopes to encourage into science, and also has a passion for improving the safety of cycling in the Scottish capital.
Tell a bit about yourself, where you are from, what you’ve studied and where and what some of your outside interests are?
My name is Eilidh Troup and I work at EPCC as an applications consultant. My background is in genetics: I loved genetics but didn’t really enjoy the lab work so in my final year I did a computational project. Having enjoyed this greatly I then did an MSc in IT and then a research MSc in bioinformatics. I worked on a computing project for neuroscience for a while and then I finally left university and got a job with a pensions company. I started working in HPC when a friend recommended working at EPCC so I applied for a chance to do something more interesting than routine programming. Outside of work I love cycling, like reading and I’ve got a little girl who takes up a lot of my time.
What is your current job in HPC and describe what you do?
I’m currently working with the School of Biological Sciences setting up a database for their experimental results.
The last piece of work I did for a HPC project was working on the Sprint project which is parallel version of R and it’s a really nice project because it makes it easy for people who just know R to use HPC because Sprint takes R functions and provides a parallel version which you can call in the same way and you don’t need to get into the tricky parallel stuff as a user.
I have always really liked working on algorithms and I like the interesting ideas of different data structures and so that made HPC appeal to me because you can do more unusual stuff with the data structures and algorithms. I was drawn to this job as a chance to work with scientists after coming from a biology background.
There is a piece of work that I did for the biologists I work with, a couple of years ago where they had an old piece of Fortran. They studied circadian rhythm - the day and night cycle of plants and different mutations that can give them different clock lengths so if you just put them in constant light, normal ones still keep their twenty-four hour rhythm to some extent but with certain genetic modifications. The plants would have a twenty-five hour cycle, for example so there was a piece of Fortran code that would fit the periodic curve to the gene expression. The code was a bit buggy and some bits of data would just crash when it tried to run so I rewrote it in java and they were really pleased because it gave the same results and it didn’t crash with the new data set that they had. Its really nice when you get a complete piece of work that somebody can just use like that.
As part of this project we want to celebrate diversity in HPC in particular to promote equality across the nine protected characteristics of the UK equality act, do you feel an affiliation with this matter and if so how has it interacted or impacted your job.
I’m a woman in Computing Science but my path here has been unusual. I have always worked in an environment with a reasonable amount of women and I think I have been quite lucky with that because I have seen some Computer Science classes which are all male really and I have sat in on a few lectures but having come through the MSc in IT it was 50:50 which was nice and so in a way I don’t feel, I’ve never felt too singled out as a woman. I think if there is something which holds me back is a bit of a lack of confidence in myself but I don’t know if that comes from society or me.
Is there something about you which is giving you a unique or creative approach towards what you do?
Coming from a biology background makes it easier to work with biologists and understand what they are doing and makes it easy to work with them.
Were there any challenges when you first entered the field?
I think the big challenge for me moving to HPC work was not having done much programming in C before. I had already picked up working from the command line, some of those things are not exactly HPC issues but they are definitely hurdles to get past. I had some problems with the compilers and I was all ready to get stuck into conceptual issues of HPC such as the Message Passing and the optimization and it was really some of the very early things which were hard for me such as trying to get them to compile as things are set up differently on the High Performance Computers and it can be hard for your confidence as well because you feel like you’ve not managed to do.
What’s the best thing about working in HPC?
The best thing has been when users have been happy with what I have done when they have been able to do something that they couldn’t do before. That’s a really nice feeling.
What’s next for you?
Immediately coming up, I have a really interesting project with a company which breeds animals and we are looking at the genetics pedigree and that code is not traditional HPC but it is going to be based on a Hadoop cluster with a spark interface on top with a spark processing on top and we have some interesting ideas for how to put the data into the database with some data structures which are right for that specific problem which sounds really good.