"Spain has a great potential to excel in research"
06 April 2016
1. To begin this interview, we are curious about your training and background as a researcher. What institutions have you been connected to so far?
My educational background is in computer science and engineering with the focus on networked systems. The original involvement in research came during my studies for an engineer degree at the Faculty of Micro-Processors and Technical Cybernetics in Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology (MIET) in Zelenograd, Russia. This first experience as a Research Assistant led to my undergraduate thesis and stirred an interest in becoming a professional scientist. I went to USA to pursue my graduate studies, first at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and then at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). While studying for a Ph.D. degree at UT Austin, I spent two summers interning at Lucent Bell Labs and AT&T Labs Research. The years of the graduate studies were crucial in my formation as a researcher, with particularly strong influence coming from the collaborations guided by Dr. Sanjoy Baruah at NJIT, my doctoral advisor Prof. Harrick Vin at UT Austin, and Dr. K. K. Ramakrishnan at AT&T. After obtaining the Ph.D. degree, I joined Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. The WashU appointment provided me again with a new kind of research experience in establishing and leading my own research group.
2. How did you get the opportunity to come and work at IMDEA Networks Institute in Madrid?
While professional options in USA are diverse, the European way of life is more humane, and I had long planned to move to Europe. In December 2008, I met Prof. Arturo Azcorra from the UC3M at the program-committee meeting of the INFOCOM conference in New York City. When Arturo told me about IMDEA Networks Institute being established under his directorship in Madrid, I found greatly appealing the aspiration to develop from scratch a networking research institute that combines cutting-edge science and practical applicability of research results. Upon encouragement from Arturo, I applied for a position, joined IMDEA Networks Institute in 2009, and have been with the institute ever since.
3. In what research lines will you be working? What specific results do you expect to obtain?
I research networked systems, jointly considering their economic, technological, and social aspects. While the classical cybernetics studies how to steer a system, my view is that large systems, such as the Internet, steer themselves. Hence, my research strives to understand and influence the evolution of such large systems rather than fully control them. This work involves development of protocols for local interactions between system components so that to induce desirable global effects. Specifically, my research group looks at economic arrangements for interconnection of networks in the Internet so that to reduce costs of Internet-traffic delivery. We also work on building decentralized trust to support flexible end-to-end Internet routing via multilateral contracts. Another example is our work on deployment of caches for a CDN (Content Delivery Network) in the Internet to minimize the CDN’s total server, energy, and bandwidth costs while satisfying the performance requirements of end users.
4. In your opinion, what is the relevance and impact of Spanish research within the European context at a general scientific level as well as within your particular area of knowledge?
Before coming to Spain, I knew even less about Spanish science than about the country itself. Research conducted in other European countries, e.g., Switzerland, featured more prominently on my radar at that time. The arrival to Spain gave me abundant opportunities to meet with scientists from various Spanish universities and research centers. These meetings led me to the belief that Spain has a great potential to excel in research. Realizing this potential requires increased funding of research activities, broader collaboration with leading research centers abroad, and bigger emphasis on publishing research results in top international conferences and journals. Competing and cooperating on the global scientific level come with serious challenges but constitute the best way for improving the quality, visibility, and impact of research results. In the particular field of networking knowledge, I would distinguish Telefonica Research and IMDEA Networks Institute as two Spanish institutions that have been pursuing this ambitious path and gained global recognition for their research excellence.
5. What advances with a significant social impact do you expect to take place in your field over the next few years?
In the approach that jointly tackles technological, economic, and social aspects of a problem, the eventual social impact is an explicit consideration, rather than an afterthought. The approach views humans as active agents within a networked system and accounts for their socioeconomic needs in developing new technologies. The expected major effect is the emergence of new techno-social systems where humans play new social roles to fulfill their economic needs via innovative technological enablers. While online social networks became a precursor of this revolution, the ongoing proliferation of digital platforms for the sharing economy is lifting the curtain on the phenomenon a bit more. In the end, I expect the impact to be much more diverse and deeper, redefine the social structure, and bring out new understanding for the role of human beings in the world.
6. Did you know Spain before joining IMDEA? What do you like best about Madrid?
In 2005, I discovered Spain for myself by landing in Madrid and driving to La Manga del Mar Menor for a conference. A year later, I attended another conference in Barcelona. While these two glimpses left positive impressions, I explored Spain much more extensively after moving to the country in 2009. I find it remarkably diverse and, at the same time, unique. Some geographic parts of Spain remind me more of the American Southwest than of any other place in Europe.
In Madrid, I like most its warm-hearted people, their dignity, passion, and respect for human life. It is a pleasure to live in the big city where locals meet strangers with friendly interest and are ready to help. Madrid is vividly imaginative and lives in an unparalleled vibrant, and yet safe, style. Its sumptuous profile includes the grand architecture of the Gran Via, artistic treasures of the Prado, magnificent parks, with the Western Park being my favorite, and Guadarrama Mountains easily reachable on a day trip. Even in its natural settings, Madrid combines adhering to traditions and reinventing itself to develop a new identity, as exemplified by colonies of monk parakeets nesting on humongous Atlas cedars. I also greatly appreciate Madrid’s continental Mediterranean climate, especially the infinite blue sky and dry air of the four-month semiarid summers surrounded by the short prologues and epilogues of the idyllic springs and autumns.