Meet the engineer building some of the largest computer systems in the world—from Poulsbo

Tall, understated, and earnest, Taylor Groves has a Curious George quality. Except “curiouser”, and more animated. His mind is a cool machine with astonishing circuitry, yet he brings a welcome accessibility to the amazing adventure his work has become.

A high-performance computer (HPC) architecture and performance engineer with Berkeley Labs, Taylor is part of a team that builds and designs some of the largest computer systems in the world.

A high-performance computer (HPC) architecture and performance engineer with Berkeley Labs, Taylor Groves is part of a team that builds and designs some of the largest computer systems in the world.

Taylor joined Vibe in 2021 when he and his family relocated from California to Poulsbo.

“It’s pretty amazing being a part of a such a diverse group of experts that delivers groundbreaking science. I focus on the system architecture and design, which embraces modeling, system analysis, and simulation.”

Did you know that atoms behave (and maybe even misbehave)? Taylor paints a picture over coffee while we talk.

“Basically, Berkeley Labs is the Department of Energy (DOE). Everything we run is generally energy focused. We partner with all these scientists around the country who need to run simulations for different chemistry and physics programs,” he says, clearly relishing that manifestation.

What are these leaders in the science realm trying to accomplish? “If you can imagine chopping up some space into a grid to measure, in small-time scales, just how atoms move and interact. What their behavior is.”

Berkeley Labs’ Perlmutter system, one of their most recent ones, uses an ultra-fast Slingshot network that connects thousands of computers together into a computing powerhouse. The purpose? A scientific energy-related problem may be gigantic, too big to fit onto one computer. The DOE works on solving such a challenge by making all these thousands of computers work to solve a single, large problem. And it’s faster, as they say, than the speed of light. (Not literally, but that’s the idea.)

“To put it into perspective, Slingshot has 200 times greater bandwidth than a gigabit home network and microsecond latency,” elaborates Taylor with enthusiasm.

What brought you to Vibe?

Taylor: Well, remote work. The first thing, I guess, is that when we moved here, we didn’t have Internet right away. We were trying to get our house set up. Where could I go to get some work done? I actually checked the library out first. Someone there referred me to Vibe, saying that there was a coworking space just down the road.

Then I stopped in here. Right away, it seemed like a great place to me. A lot of really nice things. One of my favorite aspects of being here is the relaxed environment, yet having a professional space to work from. It’s like being in an office, separated from kids and other disruptions at home. And I live just about a mile away. No commuting!

One of my favorite aspects of being at Vibe is the relaxed environment, yet having a professional space to work from. It’s like being in an office, separated from kids and other disruptions. 

What’s the coolest project you’ve ever worked on?

Taylor: I think Perlmutter is cool because it’s such a big project. It’s like designing a giant cruise ship where you only know part of it, but you’re working with a bunch of experts to build something really massive. An entity like that takes a lot of diverse skill sets.

If you’re relating it to a ship, it’s like you need someone who knows all about—the plumbing, the electrical, the engineering, etc. All of these experts are working together to build something huge and complex! So that’s been very fun to work on.

How would others describe you?

Taylor: My boss told me that I was gregarious, and he wasn’t sure that remote work would be good for me. I’m pretty social, which is unusual in my field.

What is the must-have virtue in a friend?

Taylor: Humor! I do like people who make me laugh. I think great friendship should center around humor.

Where have you had the best time of your life?

Taylor: I’m in my favorite stage of life so far. I’m really liking now. I’d say that ages 25 to 35 have been pretty great.

At 25, I began doing research in graduate school with a good group of friends. I started my family up as well, and we had two sons (now 6 and 9). I was at the University of New Mexico, which has close ties to the DOE weapons labs. That’s how I got involved in the DOE.

The labs do lots of interesting research and have an important history. They helped develop Fat Man and Little Boy during World War II. There are two DOE labs in New Mexico, Los Alamos and Sandia. Sandia, where I worked, is a weapons lab that largely focuses on securing nuclear devices.

With the first bombs, there wasn’t any real security mechanisms built in. Sandia’s role was to make these more secure and safe. There is a great documentary on the topic on Youtube (Always/Never: The Quest for Safety, Control, and Survivability). I think Kennedy was the first president to receive launch codes, becoming in charge of if, and when, the bombs would be deployed. There’s a lot of really cool history there.

The need for super computers in the DOE occurred when they stopped doing the live nuclear weapons tests. So, if you’re designing something, you still need to make sure it works correctly but you can’t actually detonate them.

I should point out that where I work now, Berkeley Labs, doesn’t do anything weapons related. We work on other problems around energy and climate.

How has being part of the Vibe community helped you become part of the greater Kitsap community?

Taylor: Especially if you’re new to the area, it’s a good place to get to know a broad set of community members. There are activities like Free 1st Friday and the First Friday Happy Hour every month that are great for meeting people.

Tell us about your path to Poulsbo.

Taylor: It all goes back to the pandemic. I went to grad school in California in the Berkeley area. We were there three years and lived through terrible fires. Then work was shut down at the start of COVID in 2020. We started thinking: why were we still in California? We actually decided to move back to Texas to live with family for a year. But we grew up there and felt like we’d done it all before. Well, there were lots of reasons not to be there!

About a year into that we started looking around. I thought it would be a good idea to stay in the same time zone as work at Berkeley Labs. I was also considering places with tech hubs, and Seattle has a big presence in that realm.

First, we looked in Oregon, and then we visited here, having never been to Kitsap before. My wife has an aunt and uncle live out here, so we did have family ties. We just really liked it, especially Poulsbo. My family and I have lived here since January 2022. So lucky.

What’s your new home like here?

Taylor: We live just outside the Poulsbo city limits on two-and-a-half acres. We have an ‘80s home that has a wood stove and tons of character. It’s a lot of fun, with a lot of space for projects. There are old garages on the property, and a well for gardening. I rebuilt one of the dilapidated chicken coops. We’re just doing all kinds of cliché things. It’s a throwback life. And we really love the outdoors of the Pacific Northwest.

Any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?

Taylor: At the Labs, we’re trying to make the shift from just working on simulations to working on complete workflows. What that means is that we want to be thinking data end points from the telescopes and microscopes in big scientific instruments. We feed their results into our system/simulations and then measure output, steering the analysis as it continues through these devices. All in real time.

OK, so who is your favorite rock star?

Taylor: I jump around a lot in what I’m listening to. Growing up I liked Smashing Pumpkins and Greenday. I like to binge on the same album for a week. I keep playing it and then move onto something else. Fleetwood Mac did the remastering and I had that on repeat. Last, I was listening to Drive-By Truckers. They’re kind of country-rock.

It’s your last supper. What would you eat?

Taylor: Food, dish, or cuisine? Hmm. I like Thai food, especially Tom Ka Gai, the coconut milk chicken soup. Or, if I’m cooking, the thing I like most to do is carbonara. Very simple, very filling. Hard to go wrong with that. We do cook at home a lot. And we have a lot of eggs now with the chickens on our little farm.

On your bedside table now is…

Taylor: I have The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. And a guide to plants in the PNW. A bird guide as well. I’m kind of nerdy when it comes to reading material.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness?

Taylor: Lately, whenever we go on a trip and we come back on the ferry, it’s just so good to see the mountains and get that fresh air. It’s probably just related to being home, around the family. But I really notice it after taking a trip and being gone for a little bit. Coming back feels really great.

Which living person do you most admire?

Taylor: You’ll hear about people who do things that are amazing, but then a story comes out that makes you realize they are only human as well. It’s a tough question because there are all these dimensions involved. It’s really difficult to narrow it down to one person. People can be great in some aspect but then there can be other traits that are awful.

You also have persons in your life like parents who you obviously admire.And I think I would say my wife. I admire her a lot. She’s just a good person all around.