“I always liked science, but as a child I never really considered a career as a scientist”
15 January 2016
1. To begin this interview, we are curious about how you were called to the life of science. When and why did you decide to become a scientist?
These aren’t decisions that one can really pinpoint. So, it’s easier to answer the “why” part of the question. I have always been curious and also often passionate about science, mathematics, and engineering. I remember asking my father questions of a scientific or mathematical nature since I was a young kid. For example, I always had a fascination for airplanes, but not just because they fly, or because they are fast, or because they go to interesting places far away. I was fascinated by the physics of flying and also by the incredible amount of engineering that goes into building and flying airplanes. Also programming has been a strong passion ever since I got my first computer, which happened when I was 13 years old, if memory serves. So as I said, I always liked science, but as a child I never really considered a career as a scientist. I enrolled in an engineering school (Politecnico di Milano) and I thought that’s what I’d be doing for a living. I thought I’d work as an engineer. But then I did my master’s thesis in a research group, working with PhD students and researchers, and that lead me to the PhD, and then, well, things progressed from there. So yeah, I’d say it wasn’t a conscious decision, really. I was lucky to be able to develop my own passions – or some of them at least.
2. What training and background do you have as a researcher?
My college degree is in Electronics Engineering, with a specialization in computer science. Actually, my university didn’t formally offer a degree in Informatics or Computer Engineering at that time, but that is effectively what I did. Politecnico was a typical and good engineering school, so I also learned a bit of physics and a bit of math in addition to computer science. In fact, I realize now that I didn’t really know much about computer science before starting my master thesis, and even though I always had a sense and a good intuition for good ideas in computer science, I think that I learned most of what I know now only later, starting with my PhD. My PhD is also from Politecnico di Milano, but in reality I developed most of my PhD research at the University of Colorado. I went there as a visiting PhD student for what was supposed to be a nine-month visit, and I ended up staying there for eight years. So it is there, working with Prof. Alexander Wolf, that I learned whatever I know as a researcher. You know, things like reading and writing!
3. How did you get the opportunity to come and work in Madrid? What institutions have you been connected to so far?
I had heard about both IMDEA Networks and IMDEA Software from colleagues, and I had been in touch with IMDEA Networks’ Professor Sergey Gorinsky. I also knew about other researchers and a few research projects carried out at IMDEA Networks through my service as a reviewer of European projects. So, that lead me to considering spending some time at IMDEA Networks during my sabbatical. This is in fact my first long-term visit (other than my stay in Colorado, which I don’t really consider a visit), so I don’t have this kind of connection with other institutions. However, in general I am very open to collaborations across institutions and across continents if the interest arises. In particular, I have good personal connections with researchers in European institutions such as Imperial College London, EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne), INRIA (French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation), University of Basel, and of course Politecnico di Milano, and also with universities in the US, including Colorado, University of California Irvine, University of Kentucky, University of Massachusetts, and Cornell University.
4. What interested you most about the IMDEA project? What made you want to become involved?
I have to say that I did not know much about IMDEA as an institution before my first visit. I just knew some people and some research projects. Then I visited IMDEA Networks and I found the enthusiasm and openness of a young and dynamic institute that reminded me very much of my experience at USI when I joined as a founding member of the Faculty of Informatics. In particular, my impression is that IMDEA Networks values the best research and provides an excellent environment for PhD students and young researchers as well as for established senior researchers in the area of networking.
5. In what research lines will you be working? What specific results do you expect to see?
My general research interests are in two areas of computer science, namely software engineering and distributed systems and networking. In recent years—but this is a research that has deep roots in my previous research even going back to my PhD—I have been working on the idea of information centric networking (or ICN). In particular, I have been working on a particular ICN (Information-centric networking) architecture and on the problems of routing and forwarding in ICN. This is what I intend to continue to do at IMDEA Networks. In particular, I am interested in exploring some theoretical aspects of routing, as well as some “systems” aspects.
6. Did you know Spain before joining IMDEA? What do you like best about Madrid?
I have been to Spain and to Madrid in particular a number of times, but I don’t feel I know Madrid or Spain that well. Needless to say, the city and the country have a long history and therefore complex traditions and a strong character that I can only surmise. But this is part of what is fascinating for my visit: the experience of discovering an interesting culture and a happening place. Of what I’ve seen and experienced of Madrid so far, I’d say that what I like the most is the people. I think I can relate to their openness and lively spirit. And okay, the place looks pretty good, too!