This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Top Scientist Dr. Doug Terry, Principal Researcher Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, past Chief Scientist CSL Xerox PARC, Adjunct Professor Berkeley, and ACM Fellow. Doug shares his deep insights into distributed systems, mobile computing, the Cloud, managing data plus research and career lessons. Doug also chairs the Cloud Computing Tech Pack committee where the ACM is seeking volunteers to test a new hybrid learning environment. For more details on this special opportunity see this blog.
Doug Terry is a Principal Researcher in the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley lab. His research focuses on the design and implementation of novel distributed systems and addresses issues such as information management, fault-tolerance, and mobility. He is currently leading a research project on Community Information Management that is developing a platform for sharing data within weakly connected communities of people using cloud-based storage and mobile devices. He also serves as Chair of ACM's Special Interest Group on Operating Systems (SIGOPS). Prior to joining Microsoft, Doug was the co-founder and CTO of a start-up company named Cogenia, Chief Scientist of the Computer Science Laboratory at Xerox PARC, and an Adjunct Professor in the Computer Science Division at U. C. Berkeley, where he regularly teaches a graduate course on distributed systems. Doug has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from U. C. Berkeley and was named an ACM Fellow.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Please share your experiences and lessons from the startup you founded?
"....It was a great experience for me to do the start-up company. I think every researcher should go and do that. It helps you be grounded, see how products work, and will help you in the future...."
What were the focuses in terms of this startup company?
"....Delivering information into the hands of professionals who had mobile devices....It was before the days of pervasive wireless communications....It was a forerunner of a bunch of stuff that you see today...."
You were a Chief Scientist of the Computer Science Laboratory at Xerox PARC. Can you talk about your research interests while you were doing this work?
"....Throughout my career my research interests have been in distributed computing in general. How do you take a bunch of computers and get them to work together to solve some interesting tasks, provide some interesting services, do something in collaboration with each other...."
Why do you continue teaching?
"....I love teaching, I find it so energizing....There's this cliché that the teachers learn more than their students, but in my case I think it is really true.... Invariably some students come up with something that you hadn't thought about and ask you some tough questions and you learn from it. You just don't get that same kind of interaction in other environments...."
Can you profile your key milestones prior to joining Microsoft and share some important lessons that you wish to pass on?
"....Technical milestones: Domain name system.....Ubiquitous computing....This notion of Collaborative Filtering....Lessons: Take risks....Have fun....Follow your instincts...."
You talked about Collaborative Filtering; in this work do you see any tie-ins with the Semantic Web and this versus things like Machine Learning?
"....Machine learning is about taking millions of records and figuring out subtle interactions and relationships between them and drawing conclusions from that....Collaborative filtering is about letting humans do what they are good at which is recommending and assessing information, and putting humans in the loop...."
Doug talks about the average lag time between having a vision and an area of research and the "time to market", where it becomes very pervasive.
What are your current roles with Microsoft and how will you shape your vision in the next 5 years?
"....I'm in research. The role is to do two things. To advance the state of the art in computing....To impact products....You really have to be proactive about thinking long term for yourself, figuring out where the technology trends are....There's no real formula for it, you just have to use your instincts and stay as informed and knowledgeable as you can, and use that to drive decisions about which problems you think are worth solving and where the impact is going to be...."
In each of your current roles, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions?
"....The biggest challenge is not doing the technical solutions....I find the hard part is trying to figure out what the real problems are and where are we going to have impact. Identifying the problem is half the problem of doing research...."
Doug comments on the future of distributed systems.
"....Pretty much anything these days that involves a computer is a distributed system...."
Can you share your research insights into sharing data across mobile devices through the cloud?
"....This is a good example where there are a couple of technology trends coming together. The cloud is providing cheap reliable storage....On the other side we have mobile devices that are becoming much more capable computing devices...."
Can you provide your thoughts on support for mobile applications that store and manage tracks of location (e.g. GPS) coordinates?
"....You are starting to see applications running on these mobile devices that know about your location and take advantage of that location to provide location-relevant information to you....Suppose you took this information you have about your location and not only did you know your current location but you kept a history of all of your past locations - what we call a track. Not only did I go from point A to point B but I went from point A to point B by following a particular route and we stored all that information in a database. That now enables a whole new class of applications...."
Where do you see the realization of this so that the average consumer out there can use these kinds of technologies and services?
"....As with a lot of technologies, it has to be almost transparent to the user....It has to be that transparent or it's not likely to get used...."
What are the challenges and solutions in managing data (in)consistency in large-scale storage systems?
"....The issue here is that any data that's stored (in the cloud or in any computer system) and you want to have it replicated across any number of machines for high availability, performance, etc.....The challenge comes when: 'What if you have to do updates to that data?'...."
Can you share your final thoughts on completely rethinking how large-scale business systems and community information management systems will be architected, designed, built, managed, and operated?
"....We have to change systems from the mindset that this information belongs to a particular person and is owned and updated and is only managed by that person, to a system that says that this information is inherently shared across people. We have to come up with better ways of protecting that information and deciding how that information is selectively shared, what role it plays based on what information gets delivered to a particular person at a particular time, based on what activity they are currently doing and what role they are playing, where they are located, who they are in a meeting with. All this information has to come into play in how that information is distributed, managed and shared across people. That is where the change is coming between what's been called personal information management and what I am calling community information management or collaborative information management...."
What are the major technology trends and what do we need to do to take advantage of them?
"....With the advent of large data centers, computing is becoming a utility....Constant connectivity with wireless networking on a global scale....Phones as your main computing device...."
Which are your top recommended resources for IT professionals and why?
"....Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) has a huge computing library....ACM has a professional development committee...."
Do you believe in volunteering for organizations, professional groups through networking and collaboration?
"....As a researcher I benefit from having a community of other researchers that I can share ideas with, publish papers with...To me, that's just an obligation you have as a researcher to give back to the community....."
Doug shares an inspirational story about Jim Gray, which has had a profound impact on him.
"....I have one story that is an amazing story about an amazing person and it goes back to what I said about mentoring and giving back to the community. This story came from when I was in Grad school...."
If you were doing this interview, are there any questions that you would ask and then what would be your answers?
"....'Give me an example of where luck played a role in your career?'...."