ENGAGE: Spartacus and my 90-Day Plan

Nizar Left LeaningI’ve just completed 60 days on the job. I know this because when I was hired, I committed to Compute Ontario’s Board to undertake a 90-day planning exercise. In the first 30 days, I met with nearly 100 people, asking them two simple questions: in terms of access to advanced computing, what is working well and what could be better? In the next 30 days, I summarized what I’d heard and observed and returned to the group to ask if I’d captured their hopes, thoughts, and concerns.

What I’m hearing: demand outstrips supply

This spring, I’ve heard extraordinary stories of innovative work. And I’ve also learned about significant challenges: there is a huge demand for access to high performance computing tools and an insufficient supply.  This is backed up by Compute Canada data showing that only 54 percent of Canadian researchers’ current demand is being met, while their requirements are growing exponentially.

This plays out in a number of ways. Based on the process we have today, researchers must predict almost a year in advance the computing cycles they will require. As a former researcher, I know that it’s difficult to predict our research funding a year in advance, let alone the number of computing cycles. As a result, even those with access face delays. Further, some researchers have no access at all, which is why at our diTHINK conference as part of Compute Ontario’s Research Day programming, Board Chair Mark Daley and I held a session designed to learn how to better “engage” with this group.

Where we go from here: our plan

On June 3, I presented my listening tour observations to the Board and, based on their feedback, will create a plan that will guide the work my team and I do in the next year. In my next post, I’ll share what I’ve learned, as well as preliminary thoughts on what Compute Ontario will be doing to address the supply/demand challenge.

Lessons from life: listen carefully

Whether creating a 90-day plan or working with colleagues, one of the most important things I’ve learned as a leader is the value of listening. And listening carefully. Not long ago, my children reminded me of this fact.

My two daughters and a friend were playing ball in the basement, even though I’ve told them a thousand times not to play with balls inside. Suddenly, there was a crash and the sound of something breaking.

Right away, my oldest daughter, Nadia, says to the other two: “I know how we can avoid punishment.” I stopped what I was doing and listened. “I saw a movie about a Roman soldier named Spartacus,” she said. “He had a price on his head. When he and several of his fellow soldiers were captured, one of the soldiers immediately said, “I am Spartacus!” Then, the next one said, “No, I am Spartacus!” And a third, “No, I am Spartacus!” As a result, the Emperor didn’t know which one was the real Spartacus, and all were eventually freed. We need to do this!”

Curious, I waited to see what they would do.

Nadia came first, “Daddy, I know we shouldn’t have been playing ball in the basement and I broke the vase.” Her friend was next, “Mr. Ladak, we shouldn’t have been playing ball in the basement and I broke the vase.” Then, my youngest, Sameena, four at the time, ran upstairs and said breathlessly,” Daddy, I am asparagus.”

Listening carefully, indeed.

Nizar Ladak