"Finding brilliant minds for research projects, administration and technology"
Since 2006 The Leibniz-Rechenzentrum is situated in the Forschungszentrum Garching. Foto: LRZ
The Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) is on course for growth: in 2021, the Future Computing programme to explore new supercomputing and high-performance computing systems took off. The Quantum Integration Centre (QIC) was opened. And LRZ has attracted - together with various partner organisations - many new research projects from the high-tech agendas of Europe, Germany and Bavaria to Garching. "We are very happy about these successes, they demonstrate that the LRZ enjoys a good reputation internationally, also among politicians and the public who fund us," says Dr. Jürgen Seidl, who the Administration at the LRZ. "But success usually comes with challenges such as the lack of space as well as staff shortages, also in the administration." New ideas are in demand: the field of quantum computing alone will attract nearly 30 new colleagues to the LRZ in the next few months. The library at Boltzmannstraße 1 in Garching is already being reduced in size, and corridors and halls are being converted to create more space for offices. In the interview, Sabine Osorio, Head of Human Resources at the LRZ, and Dr. Jürgen Seidl report on how growth plans can be organised.
What surprised you most about 2021? Sabine Osorio: Nothing can surprise us any more ... (laughs). No, seriously – projects like Future Computing, or Quantum Computing had already been announced in 2020. So, we knew that there would be a lot of work and coming up in 2021, and we therefore started 2021 with a realistic picture of the tasks ahead.
Dr Jürgen Seidl: We knew that the LRZ had landed many new projects, but honestly - the extent that some have taken on in the field of quantum and future computing did surprise us. We are very happy about the success. It demonstrates that the LRZ enjoys a good reputation internationally, also among politicians and the public, who finance us. However, success usually comes with challenges such as the lack of space as well as staff shortages, also in the administration.
How do the new research projects affect the organisation and its structures? Seidl: Unfortunately, the administration is not growing for the time being, which is certainly a downer to growth. In addition, we have lost a few very good staff members in the administration, which hurts me a lot. This increases the workload in the organisation. It is also certain that it is are getting tighter at the LRZ – in a literal sense. In the field of quantum computing alone, we will hire about 30 new colleagues in the next few months, and we will also need new people for future computing, the planning of the successor system for SuperMUC-NG, security issues and project management. Where we will place the new colleagues is still an issue to be solved. We are hoping for digitisation, flexible working from home schemes, new ideas, but above all for good cooperation with the staff council and the management. Osorio: Personally, it makes me proud to work in such a progressive environment. I value it a lot that the work we do is meaningful? But when I look at the dimensions of some projects, I have to swallow. We have to look for new colleagues for all these projects. Where can we find specialists in the latest computer technologies? And more importantly - how do we organise rapid growth without sacrificing quality and team spirit in the LRZ? The projects take up a lot of space for planning and administration. Retention management is also becoming more important, i.e. strategies and measures to ensure that staff enjoys working at the LRZ and wants to stay. We don't just want to recruit new colleagues, but above all offer prospects to existing ones.
And where are the quantum or rare computer specialists to be found today? Osorio: In addition to the tried and tested ones, we are now exploring many new possibilities for recruiting: Advertisements, service providers, networking and social media. With the Bavarian Quantum Computing eXchange or BQCX community, we have a useful, international channel to directly address quantum experts and young talent. We are currently working with the PR team on a nice, colourful social media campaign. We also hope that colleagues will attract candidates. Team spirit and a diverse, international corporate culture, personal freedom, these are reasons why the LRZ is recommended as a place to work, and I am very pleased about that. With every application we find more arguments why experts would like to work at the LRZ. Nevertheless, the LRZ must become more visible as an employer. Students and researchers know the LRZ as an IT service provider, but it doesn’t occur to them that they could also work here. And on top we should also become better known outside the university cosmos; after all, we still need IT experts for instance that do have vocational training in the field.
What is the biggest challenge in the growth you are aiming for? Seidl: I probably speak for many of my colleagues from the administration – I am not familiar with many of the topics, for example quantum computing or exascale systems, and first have to familiarise myself with the financial, organisational or personnel requirements in applications and proposals. We are confronted with many new topics here - exciting, but sometimes draining. Osorio: I feel the same way. But it's just nice that everyone here is so open and that we can always ask the respective specialists or the leadership for advice. I also listen to podcasts or lectures on the future of computers more often now.
Corona and working at home are also changing the LRZ a lot. What's next? Osorio: We are currently digitising time recording and applications for leave. It's more work than we thought, we can't just use any tool, it has to be data-friendly and tested. Some colleagues work with it and give us good input. Hopefully we will be able to conclude an amendment to the staff agreement with the staff council in 2021 so that all colleagues can use the tool. This will save time and paper, streamline approval processes and make information available more quickly and securely. To ensure that cohesion is not lost while many of our colleagues work from home a lot, we have introduced virtual coffee talks during which new colleagues can introduce themselves. These have been really well received, and we want to continue with post pandemic. In contrast to the usual coffee rounds on-site in Garching, everyone can connect, make new contacts and discover common interests. It would be nice if existing LRZ teams could occasionally introduce themselves and their tasks – this also strengthens cohesion at a distance.
What is your personal conclusion for 2021? Osorio: We really weren't bored on any single day. The figures also show that 2021 was an extremely busy year: The human resources team advertised 65 positions, processed 400 applications, conducted 130 interviews and concluded 48 contracts with employees and students. Together with my two colleagues, I dealt with more than 10,500 enquiries about working at the LRZ by email, on the phone and in Rocket Chat. Seidl: This year I was particularly challenged by the topic of finances. But what always keeps me on my toes is how solution-oriented my colleagues are here. When the Corona traffic light turned red in mid-November and 3G was immediately required for attendance at the LRZ, a few colleagues from the administration immediately sat down at reception and worked there to help with the tests and validating vaccination certificates etc. Here, people look at pragmatic solutions and support – that's great.
What makes you particularly proud when you look back at 2021? Seidl: Well, 2021 showed me that leaving my old job and starting at the LRZ was the right choice. After being on the job for a whole year now, I can definitely say it was the right choice - despite all the challenges and open questions: I like being here, I am needed here. Osorio: I celebrate that despite the extra work, we have never forgotten that we are a fantastic team. We were on the ground every day during the pandemic - with hygiene in mind. We learned that we can rely on each other and help each other, regardless of the tasks. The team has grown even closer and we are doing a very good job!
What plans are on the agenda for 2022? Seidl: Finances will certainly be a big challenge. The new team leader for finance starts in March, the person responsible for third-party funding in May, and these colleagues need thorough on-boarding. In cooperation with the Bavarian Academy of Science and Humanities, taxes remain a hot topic. Preparations for the successor of SuperMUC-NG and, above all, the lack of space at the LRZ will also tie up a lot of ressources in facility management. In view of current delivery problems with computer and other technology and confronted with staff shortages and increasing personnel requirements, it will certainly be difficult to keep to schedules. And we have to make sure that no one feels left behind in the LRZ, because it's not only about new research and technology, but above all about reliable IT services, and that should also be appreciated and valued. Osorio: Apart from job advertisements, we would like to launch a survey among employees again in 2022. In 2020, we received such important feedback on the home office and Corona management.
What is most important to you or what do you wish for 2022? Osorio: To find great minds not only for research projects, but also for the LRZ's administration and user services. My heart's desire is to make the LRZ a good place to work for everyone. The announcement from the job advertisements, according to which we are happy to receive applications from talented people, regardless of their cultural background, nationality, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, physical abilities, religion and age, must not be a cliché. Seidl: I would like to see more permanent positions for the LRZ. It is certainly a great success to be able to co-develop new technologies and design innovative IT services, but what does that mean for the day-to-day operation of the data centre, its range of services and its administration? The increasing number of projects and future technologies at the LRZ must also find an echo in the administration as well as in the technical support; there is still a lack of support here. This cannot be financed from the pots for third-party and research funds. I hope that politicians will recognise this, and I would like to see customers like TUM, LMU and other research partners support these demands on politicians and society and draw attention to them. (vs)
Dr. Jürgen Seidl is responsible for Zentrale Dienste in LRZ, Sabine Osorio (below) for the staff