Information, Technology & Consulting

Women in Technology: Susan Schwarz, Director of Research Computing

I'm a software engineer in ITS' research computing group, where I help students and faculty with their computational research. One of the best parts of my job is the variety of research that I work with. Examples include writing programs to help patients with back problems decide on their course of treatment, and helping students visualize the complexities of stellar evolution. It is fun and very satisfying to use technology to help people do more and better research—this could involve parallelizing a program so it runs faster or visualizing a large amount of data to better understand some phenomenon. Another advantage of my job is that I have to keep learning new technologies.

I have always been good at math and have  a bachelor's and a master's degree in the subject. I started out as a high school math teacher mainly because I had no one to advise me on the career options open to me. In my first and only teaching position, I was assigned to teach non-college preparatory math classes and ended up spending a lot of time disciplining students instead of teaching math. After a few years of teaching, I was ready to try something else, and I took a job as a programmer at Creare, an R&D engineering company in Hanover. For my first few years there I worked on nuclear safety projects. This is when I became excited about technology. My job was to write programs to acquire and reduce the data coming from an experiment facility, and later we developed a theoretical model and a computer simulation to predict what would happen during a loss of coolant accident. It was exciting when the results from our computer simulations matched our experimental data.

After working at Creare for 12 years, I took a job with Project Northstar at Dartmouth where we developed engineering application programs to be used in classes at Thayer School. My job at Dartmouth has evolved into providing support for researchers, and I work mostly with sciences and engineering. In the last ten years, I have worked mostly in the area of high performance computing which involves developing and running applications that require lots of calculations and computer resources to run.

I have been lucky to have had some good mentors and excellent male colleagues and I think that is one reason I have stayed in computing. In my years working at Creare and Dartmouth, there have been very few women in the groups I have worked in. In the late 1980s, I was working on a project at a secure facility at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and there was no women's bathroom. I had to have one of my colleagues stand guard outside the bathroom. Ten years ago when I went to computer conferences in the area of high performance computing, there were almost no women. In the last few years, I have noticed that there are more women attending although they are still in the minority. Recently, I have worked with more women graduate students at Dartmouth.

Related:

 "How to be a 'Woman Programmer'" in The New York Times, May 18, 2013

"How One College is Closing the Computer Science Gender Gap" on NPR's All Tech Considered, May 01, 2013

Department: 
Close
Information, Technology & Consulting