[Beowulf] Stroustrup regarding multicore

Tim Cutts tjrc at sanger.ac.uk
Tue Aug 26 16:34:47 EDT 2008

On 26 Aug 2008, at 2:29 pm, Perry E. Metzger wrote:

> I think part of the issue is that most people doing scientific
> computing don't have computer science backgrounds, which is a
> shame.

There is an unwritten recruitment rule, certainly in my field of  
science, that the programmer "must understand the science", and  
actually being able to write good code is very much a secondary  
requirement.  I think this grew out of the last 20 years of  
exponentially increasing computer power which meant that in many  
fields you could write crappy code and just wait for hardware  
improvements to make it faster.  This is particularly the case in  
fields such as bioinformatics where the field came into existence  
since the days of very limited memory and very slow machines, so they  
never experienced the world when writing tight code was essential (I  
started programming in 1984, so I can barely remember those days  
either).  This is further hindered by the fact that no-one doing a  
masters in Bioinformatics learns a compiled language.   They learn  
things like Java, R, perl, python and ruby.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though.  I'm beginning to see  
signs that people are starting to be hired primarily as programmers,  
and not scientists.  This is usually in areas where the scientists  
have hit a brick wall in terms of performance, and with exponentially  
increasing data quantities, had nowhere else to go.  I expect this to  
gradually expand over the next couple of years, but there's going to  
be a lot of pain in the meantime - particularly for those of us  
building and running the systems, who will tend to get the blame when  
we supply a 10,000 core cluster and the scientists find their code  
doesn't run any faster than it does on the current 1,000 core system.   
"It's a more powerful system, it must be your fault it's not working"


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