Profiles of WICArch

The mission of this section is to profile women in computer architecture across many walks of our field, from [junior, senior] x [industry, academia].

If you would like to be profiled, would like to nominate someone to be profiled, or would like to write a profile, please let us know by wicarch-chair@acm.org

Welcome to Profiles of Women in Computer Architecture!

Lisa Hsu

The mission of this page is to profile women in computer architecture across many walks of our field, from [junior, senior] x [industry, academia]. These profiles are intended to be not just technical profiles, but all-around pictures of the featured women. The hope is these profiles will be fun and interesting to readers, provide career visibility for the profilees, and be a source of “existence proofs” for up-and-coming women in computer architecture.

Why Do This?

As one of a small tribe of women in computer architecture sparsely scattered throughout the world, I’ve long been accustomed to being the only woman in the room. As I went through grad school and was often the only woman attendee of the computer architecture reading group for multiple years running, I began to spend a lot of time thinking about what was so strange about me that I was the only one left standing. I don’t particularly think of myself as a weirdo, but it seemed that based on the numbers, even among weirdos, I was a super weirdo.

The question was why? I spent a LONG time thinking about my origin story as a computer architect – going back to my childhood through adulthood and all the various inputs I felt contributed to my path. While there are a number of factors, I feel strongly that one non-trivial contributor has been the visibility of accessible existence proofs. By accessible, I mean people I could meet, see, talk with, and imagine myself having a similar career. In other words, not Sheryl Sandberg. I can’t be Sheryl Sandberg. I know that off the bat. My concern with non-accessible existence proofs is that people can more easily write-off their own futures with thoughts of, “Well obviously I can’t be like that, so I should just get out of Dodge.”

I didn’t get out of Dodge. Between 7th grade and college, I had an unusually high fraction of female math and science teachers, as well as male humanities teachers. I went to Princeton for college, and took my first two computer architecture courses (using the texts from our favorite Turing Award winners) from two different female computer architects, Margaret Martonosi and Ruby Lee. I can’t imagine how many people in our field can say they had their first two computer architecture courses taught by female professors. Later in my college career, I met Jen Rexford, a Princeton alum who went to the University of Michigan for her PhD and went on to have (and continues to have) an illustrious career, now back at Princeton as a professor. At the time, I felt a certain kinship with her because I had committed to going to the University of Michigan for my PhD as well.

Did I ever go through the explicit thought process “Look at all these female role models that I can see in front of my face, I can do this too”? No. But do I think that on some level, the assemblage of women I met along the way in my formative years have given me some substrate of belonging as I moved further in my career, where the assemblage of women gave way to….the dearth of women.

Sometimes though, even that substrate would fail me. I would think in grad school, “Obviously I can’t do this because I don’t read ArsTechnica and Tom’s Hardware to find out about the latest changes to Intel’s FSB. I don’t read O’Reilly books just for light fun reading. I should go do something else.” Then, at a WICARCH gathering at I believe ISCA 2006, I sat near to Sarita Adve at dinner. I asked her if she keeps track of all the latest developments in industry and spends all her spare cycles on computer science. She said emphatically, no. It was a defining realization for me, that I didn’t have to be a total wonk to have a career in computer architecture. This is the genesis behind wanting to write profiles that don’t focus solely on the technical.

Who Am I?

Many of you may not know me. I’m not in any hall of fames, I’m not “famous” in any sense in our little world. But I’d describe myself as a mid-career architect and have had a good, fulfilling, and interesting career thus far, on a path that I would love to see other women enjoy should they so choose.

More pedantically, I have a BS in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University and an MS and PhD in Computer Science from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. I recently joined the datacenter group at Qualcomm, working on fun secret things. Prior to this role, I was part of the R&D group at Qualcomm and performed research on different fun secret things. Before joining Qualcomm, I worked at AMD Research, where I focused on next generation server design as well as GPGPU design. While I no longer actively develop gem5, there are remnants of my code in the gem5 codebase that continue to exist, some of which was the early stages of AMD APU simulation development. I hold 12 patents and can recite all 50 states in alphabetical order in less than 20 seconds.

When not working or playing with my children, I enjoy some decidedly old-lady pursuits – reading a good book by a window, knitting, gardening, and cooking. I also enjoy some not-so-old-lady hobbies, like barbell lifting, eating a lot, listening to the Hip Hop BBQ station on Pandora, and surprising men with non-zero knowledge of sports trivia.

How Can You Contribute?

If you would like to be profiled, would like to nominate someone to be profiled, or would like to write a profile, please let us know by e-mailing wicarch-chair@acm.org.

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