A High-Performing Computer Engineer Leads a "Super" Lab

September 2018
Christine Harvey
Christine Harvey

Christine Harvey is not one to pass on an opportunity to learn something new and see how far it can take her.

Early in her MITRE career, Harvey contributed to a large-scale modeling and simulation team to research replacement options for our aging high-performance computing (HPC) resources. The equipment couldn't deliver the speed and performance that researchers needed.

She helped complete the research and acquisition of two supercomputer clusters: "Senate" at MITRE's McLean, Virginia campus, and "Sammet" at the MITRE offices in Bedford, Massachusetts.

When an internal re-organization offered her a new opportunity, she took it: a chance to run the HPC lab in MITRE’s Enterprise Technical Computing Center. The promotion was a ringing endorsement of an early-career professional's talents.

"Management took a chance on me, based on good recommendations and my reputation for working hard," she says.

Over the last two years, Senate and Sammet have hosted 246 users across more than 84 projects from 75 departments. This includes projects for government sponsors, engineering to improve internal capabilities, and research for the MITRE Innovation Program.

Harvey manages the resources, including purchasing, training, and scheduling. "MITRE has a lot of smart people, but not all of them know about the advantages of our supercomputing capabilities. They're valuable resources."

Supercomputers allow researchers to test their ideas by using advanced modeling and simulation techniques before incurring the time and expense of real-world trials. Much of this experimentation relies on high-performance computers like Senate or Sammet, which compute complex algorithms and code that would bog down the average laptop—even several laptops.

For example, a MITRE signal processing team needed to run a complicated simulation. Using eight laptop computers capable of a combined 2,000 cycles per day, it would have taken 900 days to complete the test. Senate completed about 80,000 runs per day and finished the simulation in about three weeks. As a company that works to discover new ways to make the world safer, this kind of computing power helps turn ideas into reality that much faster.

Science and Math Curriculum Sparks Interest

Harvey's path to the HPC lab started in her teens. She was one of the first students to attend her Maryland school district's science and math academy. "I wasn’t really interested at first, but it was a brand new high school—a public school—and they had a strong computer science and robotics curriculum. I received early exposure to those fields of study, and I liked programming."

The Science and Mathematics Academy within Aberdeen High School requires students to complete a capstone project with a mentor from the technology world. She completed a weapons modeling project in the materials lab at the Army Research Laboratory. The project awakened her interest in computer science and modeling and simulation. Harvey went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in computational science from Stockton University in New Jersey.

A college-funded trip to The International Conference for High Performance Computing Networking, Storage, and Analysis further fueled her interest in computational science and HPC. She has returned every year, first as a student volunteer, then as a student programs coordinator, and later as the chair of student outreach. Through the committee, she has also developed connections with other federally funded research and development centers and national laboratories.

"It's great because I get to work with students and help people through that shock and awe stage at a conference – meeting all these people, seeing the exhibits, the technical programs, and attending the workshops."

A High-Energy Performer Enjoys Her Autonomy

While college introduced Harvey to her current career path, it was actually her high school that led her to MITRE. During the last year of her master’s degree, she returned to the school to attend the annual capstone expo. She introduced herself to every mentor. One of them, a MITRE employee, referred her for a job on the technical staff. Since then, she's been on an upward trajectory.

Harvey is never one to do things by half. For example, as part of running the lab, she also extols the virtues of HPC to her colleagues. She contributes to technical articles and presents papers at modeling and simulation conferences across the country. She's also pursuing a doctoral degree in computational sciences at George Mason University.

This drive, experience, education, and professional network make Harvey an attractive hire for any tech company, but she enjoys the autonomy and opportunity that MITRE provides. "I don’t know if I’d have that independence anywhere else," she says. "It's still early in my career—I feel fortunate to run our high-performance computing lab."

—by Molly Manchenton

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