This year at the CANHEIT (Canadian Higher Education Information Technology) conference, two of our IST staff members were honoured for their work with Compute Canada supporting researchers across the country.
Kamil Marcinkowski won the Team Choice award thanks to several nominations from his Compute Canada colleagues. Kamil helped create and is currently running Compute Canada’s scheduling team, an endeavour that is propelling research forward. He also sits on the Resource Allocation Competition (RAC) administrative committee, participates in Research Data Management Week, and still finds time to consult researchers and help solve their problems.
Masao Fujinaga won the Career Achievement award, a category created specifically for Masao to recognize his long-standing service. Before retiring in April, Masao spent 18 years at the U of A supporting users across Canada in research computing. More than 10 percent of all user-support requests were answered by Masao, and he installed nearly 35 percent of all the software packages of the Compute Canada software stack. Last year alone, Masao closed over 800 tickets.
Here’s a closer look at the extraordinary work these two have accomplished.
Kamil Marcinkowski — Team Choice Award
Q: Can you tell me about the work you did that qualified you for this award?
Kamil: I created and ran Compute Canada’s scheduling team. We started off as a very small microteam, but it needed a lot of work as a bigger team, and it needed a lot of communication coordination. We’ve been a national team since September. Before, each region did their own scheduling. Now, we’re doing everything the same way, with one login, so it really simplifies things for the users.
Q: What does an average workday look like for you?
Kamil: There is no average for me. I wear a number of hats. One, I run this scheduling national team. I am also the Site Lead for WestGrid here, so I do some administrative tasks for WestGrid and consult with the researchers here. Because I’m the head of the scheduling national team, I’m also on the RAC administrative team for Compute Canada. If researchers have issues, or if someone needs access to computer resources on campus, I’m handling that since Masao retired. We recently held Research Data Management Week, and I ran some of those sessions myself. I also do online presentations for Compute Canada. I do a little bit of everything.
Q: Can you tell me about your educational and work background?
Kamil: My educational background was here at the University of Alberta, where I got my computing science degree. Then I graduated just as the dot-com crash happened, so that was great timing. There were basically no jobs in the field when I graduated. Years later, everything changed, and all of a sudden my phone started ringing. The U of A was looking for someone to fill a junior high-performance computing role, so I started off installing software and Linux systems and learning more about high-performance computing. Thirteen years later, here I am.
Q: How does your work push the university forward?
Kamil: We provide researchers with the computing resources they need. We also provide training on how to use those resources, we solve some of their problems in getting them capable of running, and we help researchers with their RAC applications. With the scheduling team in particular, we needed to get all these different kinds of researchers running across the country, and we wanted to be fair and efficient and integrated with all these other systems. My work enables research across Canada.
Q: What does winning this award mean to you?
Kamil: It’s a recognition by my colleagues, and I definitely feel honoured. I wasn’t expecting it, so it was a very nice surprise.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Kamil: I love my work, it’s very rewarding, especially when I participate in RAC. We’ve been a part of so many interesting projects, everything from medical research to nanotechnology. Research is at the heart of what we do.
Masao Fujinaga — Career Achievement Award
(Scott Delinger answered on behalf of Masao)
Q: Can you tell me about the work Masao did that qualified him for this award?
Scott: My favourite characterization of Masao is something [Digital Humanities Specialist] John Simpson said: “Masao has to write scripts in languages he doesn’t know to configure software that’s applicable to fields that aren’t his fields of research so that the researcher can actually do a computation that is meaningful with results that feed directly into papers.”
Q: Can you tell me about Masao’s role here overall?
Scott: Masao had to do a lot of tweaking in fields he wasn’t an expert in because he was supporting every field of research. We have people researching bird phonics, we have people studying digital social sciences, and Masao’s background is crystallography in cell biology. But he had an ability to abstract what a person was saying to the computational use, and he could speak to them well enough that he would understand what their issue was and how to solve it. Look at it this way — there are 190 neurosurgeons in Canada, but only 75 to 100 people like Masao. So I can literally say that this ain’t brain surgery. This is actually a rarer set of people than brain surgeons.
Q: What were some of the traits that made Masao stand out as a worker?
Scott: He is quiet, he is focused, he is helpful. He doesn’t have a bad thing to say about anyone, and that’s crucial when you’re providing this kind of service because it takes away the bluster from some of those users. If these researchers are interacting with someone who’s difficult and abrupt, then they’ll blow up as well, but you never had to worry about that with Masao.
Q: How would he have been missed at the university if he wasn’t doing this work?
Scott: If he didn’t go into this area of work, then not only the university, but the entire country wouldn’t have had this leading example of how to do this work.
Q: What are some future goals for the research computing team?
Scott: I want to get more cycles available to more researchers in a minimum amount of time, because the country is so far behind. We used to be #6 in the world, and now we’ve fallen to beyond #24 in gigaflops per researcher. We need to be back up there. My goal is for researchers to be able to ask global-scale questions, not just Canada-scale.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Scott: I think the number of nominations goes to show you how broadly Masao’s work was appreciated. Eight out of ten nominations came from researchers. And in both Masao’s case and Kamil’s, the multiplicity of nominations shows there’s a broad awareness of how good our people actually are.