Brent Gorda Inspires Generations of Genius

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Joins StartupHPC to Share His Journey as Serial Entrepreneur

What do StartupHPC, Top 500 systems, parallel computing, National Labs, and the Student Cluster Competition have in common with country music bands, bull riding, beanie babies and the Tour de France?

The common thread is Brent Gorda. The HPC luminary, self-starting entrepreneur, and keynote speaker at the second StartupHPC Summit. Gorda will share his own Founder Story – from his beginnings at a startup, immersion in national research and several stints in serial entrepreneurism.

Representing generations of genius, StartupHPC showcases the character and humanity that is HPC. The one-day summit draws industry luminaries, students, seasoned professionals and startups together to encourage HPC entrepreneurialism. The collaborative forum focuses on spurring STEM education and job creation, talent development and retention to IP protection, production and monetization – to address the industry’s requirements to develop, drive, support and sustain ongoing advances across research, meet the demand for inventive new software and technologies, applications and processes, from general purpose to exascale endeavors, and extend industry collaborations, competiveness and societal progress. This year’s StartupHPC summit boasts a roster of change agents who will be on hand prior to the gala opening of SC15 and its weeklong technical program and exhibition of world leading advances in research, technique and technology and how #HPC Transforms.

HPC transformers like Gorda and the balance of the StartupHPC lineup will share what motivates them and what or who inspired their journey. They’ll answer questions, like what prompts them to risk everything for some great or little reward? What lessons have they learned that we can apply to achieve success or avoid the possibility of failure? More often than not, the first lesson you learn from mentors and change-agents like Gorda is that there is much to be learned!

A character with character!

Born in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, Gorda moved to Alberta to attend high school, and compete in rodeo bull riding. He attended University of Alberta working his way through a BSc in Computer Science performing in a country and western band on weekends and teaching night classes at a local college while working towards his masters. His first brush with startups was Myrias Research, founded by his professors, who envisioned building a massively parallel computer using ‘off the shelf’ technologies – what has become modern day HPC.

Four years later and just days before the startup’s end, the self-proclaimed ‘environmental refugee’ left the Canadian cold, migrating south to the “Golden State” to work at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLNL) and attend UC Davis to work on graduate coursework in Computer Science. Gorda’s focus on parallel computing marked the beginning of a distinguished career leading national research and outreach programs.

Strange parallels and triads

Gorda’s present role as GM of Intel’s High Performance Data Division follows acquisition of his third startup Whamcloud, a Lustre support company that resulted from a collaboration with longtime lab colleague and Intel Fellow Mark Seager. The two met when Gorda joined LLNL as a computer scientist (and was one of only two foreign nationals onsite at the time).

Following LLNL and a six year startup hiatus, Gorda returned to research joining LBNL as the Future Technology Lead, which he followed up with a role as Deputy for Advanced Technology Projects – finally trading his foreign national status for naturalized citizen. Throughout nearly twenty years in research, the only recognition he’ll share is being awarded Kathy Yelick’s honorary “Perpetual Flame.”

Fodder for his StartupHPC Founder Story is his lesser-known contributions to Internet commercialization as the co-founder of Bonsai Software, an Internet auction platform and MetaExchange Inc., a NASDAQ-like bid-ask commodity-exchange platform. Precursors to the modern day eBay, both companies designed advanced technologies and real-time services that triggered the ecommerce explosion empowering consumers and commercial companies to buy, sale, trade and auction goods, from Beanie Baby collectables to computers, peripherals and beyond. This he followed with his last venture at Whamcloud, taking on Larry Ellison to liberate Lustre and its subsequent integration to Intel Inside. Dun dunt dunt dun …

Cowboy computing & STEM Champion

Throughout his career Gorda has not only invested in his success, he’s invested himself in the success of others, like Greg Wilson’s Software Carpentry. Gorda helped teach Wilson’s first training class LANL in 1998. Seventeen years later, Wilson has evolved Software Carpentry into a fully funded foundation offering week-long training modules to help raise the standards of education and interaction between researchers and computer scientists.

Gorda was also the architect of the Student Cluster Challenge (SCC), a popular student outreach program he founded along with ORNL’s Ricky Kendall and others at the SC conference in 2007. The SCC brings international teams of undergraduates students together to compete in a 48-hour challenge. Teams of six students architect systems with a power limit that can’t exceed 3120 Watts while running a series of real-world HPC applications in real-time. The first SCC held in Reno, Nevada was won by Gorda’s alma mater the University of Alberta. The SCC series has since grown to international competitions hosted all over the world.

During SC15 as part of his SC advisory role, Gorda will moderate the November 18th SCC panel examining the impact of the competition and help determine whether “extracurricular” activities such as the SCC provide sufficient ROI, and what activities could change or replace the competition. Now in its ninth year, the panel will explore how SCC has impacted a student’s career path, curriculum integration and challenges HPC talent, academic institutions and computing centers face in keeping pace with the rapid advances in HPC.

Gorda is also widely published. He’s authored, coauthored and contributed to countless articles and publications, including eighteen published papers and cited or referenced in others works over 300 times. Social aggregator Agilience Inc.’s authority index ranks him one of the top 250 authorities for his expertise in parallel and supercomputing but when it comes to social technologies ‘likes’ Gorda jokingly suggests he’s ‘mostly anti-social in practice.’

What’s next for the 51-year old husband and father of one? He’s traded his cowboy hat and bull riding for a bicycle and helmet … and a dream to ride the route taken by Le Tour de France. Vive la Tour! Vive la Gorda!

See the featured interview with Brent Gorda over at insideHPC.

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