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What do you do?

So, how about it: what do you do for a living? What does your organization do? Why should anyone outside your company care?

Dr. Daniel Reed used a great analogy in his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives wherein he described HPC as a universal intellectual amplifier. Unlike the telescope and the microscope -- tools that made huge differences in their respective fields -- HPC can apply to all aspects of human technical endeavor. HPC is special.

It's also small, and usually under some kind of threat. Either technology is stagnating, threatening relevance, or funding is stagnating, threatening our ability to accomplish our missions.

We need to take care of HPC. To help it grow we need to make sure that every possible new user understands what HPC could do for them, and that every current user clearly understands what HPC is doing for them.

To this very big end, every single one of us should be able to talk about what we do and the benefit that HPC delivers. And because we are a small, highly specialized community most of the people who need to hear about us aren't HPC folks. So the language that we use has to be meaningful, straight forward, and jargon-free. How would you explain HPC to your Mom? Have you explained HPC to your Mom?

What's in it for you? Plenty!

In case that end is a little to removed to motivate you, there are a lot of perfectly good career-centered ends to get you going.

First of all, being able to articulate what your company does -- either for the HPC community or for users, depending upon what you make -- is good for business. Any time you travel to a conference or meeting you'll be running into people who work in or use HPC. These folks are your customers and potential customers. Being able to tell them what you do and why they should care will bring your company more business.

Sure, you probably have a sales force. And they are better at this than you are. But there are a lot more non-sales people, so you can afford to not be great at it and still get a couple hits every once in a while.

Second of all, being able to tell people what you personally do, and the value that you personally provide, is good for your career.

Being able to clearly articulate your contribution within your organization will clarify your value in your boss's mind and give him ammo when it's promotion time. Outside your organization a clear understanding of your value and purpose will help you sell yourself effectively to someone who needs the skills (and perspective) you possess.

Be able to tell people what you do. It's good for HPC, it's good for your company, and it's good for you.


West is the director of a Top 20 supercomputing center and author of The Only Trait of a Leader (, a book and blog about leadership and career skills for technology professionals. Contact him at Leadership and career skills to help scientists, engineers, and technologists find success doing what they love to do. No time to keep up? Subscribe to the RSS feed!


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