This is the next interview in the continuing series with world-renowned professionals. Gabriel shares his remarkable insights from one of the best in the world.
Dr. Gabriel Silberman is Senior Vice President and Director of CA Labs. He is responsible for building CA Technologies research and innovation capacity across the business.
Leveraging the talents of the company's researchers and technical experts worldwide, CA Labs engages with leading-edge researchers in academia, professional associations, industry standards bodies, customers and partners to explore novel products and emerging technologies in support of CA Technologies key growth areas. The results of these collaborations vary from research publications, to best practices, to new directions for products. Research topics cover insider threat detection, identity management, root-cause analysis, software development architecture, cloud computing methodology and strategy, and the human factor in technology.
Gabby joined CA Technologies and established CA Labs in 2005. His experience in academic and industrial research has contributed to the success of the collaborative model of exploration into emerging and disruptive technologies.
Prior to joining CA Technologies, Gabby was program director for the IBM Centers for Advanced Studies (CAS), where he was responsible for developing and adapting the collaborative research model for IBM worldwide. Previously, Gabby was a manager and researcher at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center where he led exploratory and development efforts, including work in the Deep Blue chess project.
Gabby began his career in academia as a faculty member in computer science at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. He was a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and serves on academic advisory boards at several universities and research institutes around the world. Gabby was a Council Member-at-Large of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and serves on editorial boards as well as conference organizing and technical program committees. He is also a member of the International Federation of Information Processing Working Group 10.3 and a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Computer Society.
Gabby earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Computer Science from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Gabriel, you have a strong history of significant global impact in research, innovation, and senior executive leadership. Thank you for sharing your considerable expertise, deep accumulated insights and wisdom with our audience.
"....Thank you Stephen. I look forward to your questions...."
Define the ACM DSP and your role?
"....The Distinguished Speaker Program (DSP) and its predecessor the Distinguished Lectureship Program (DLP) were created primarily to serve ACM student chapters by bringing outstanding professionals to their schools and giving talks on topics of interest in the computing profession. A couple of years ago we noticed that the DLP were underutilized. A committee was formed by ACM to look into ways to revitalize the program and thus the birth of the DSP. I was part of the committee that looked at ways of actualizing the program and I am currently chairing that committee which is composed of colleagues from academia and industry as well as government....Our aim is to have ACM in general and DSP in particular as a resource to serve the broader public...."
What is the value of the DSP and which audiences can benefit from the DSP? Can you expand on this?
"....The main purpose of the DSP is to bring together speakers and topics that are current, but also people who can give their perspectives on (for example, computing careers) to help students decide which way to take their career....The advantage of going through the DSP is not just the quality of the speakers that you can tap into, but also the funding model that ACM uses for the DSP...."
What is your vision for the DSP and how will you close the gaps in your DSP roadmap from current status to future vision?
"....One of my main objectives as Chair of the DSP committee is to make it more international, both in terms of recruiting top-flight professionals as speakers in other geographies and also by creating demand for those programs in other geographies. Some of the approaches that we've taken are to reach out to national computing societies, as well as working with several of ACM's other organizations and bodies that have a presence in other geographies like Europe, China and India to recruit more speakers and to promote the program to local hosts....Another option that we're looking at is to link the DSP to other ACM services...."
How can audiences further engage with the DSP?
"....We have two audiences for the DSP. One is distinguished speakers and we invite them to apply or self-nominate, or they can be nominated by another professional to become speakers in the DSP program. The other audience are the hosts that will invite the speakers....To date we have about 100 speakers, many of them with multiple lectures so we have quite a good selection available....For more information for speakers and hosts: dsp.acm.org...."
What do you want to do with MITACS (Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems) research network and can you get into more detail about what that means?
"....MITACS (Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems) is a network that was created in Canada several years ago to promote just that — Information Technology and Mathematics and Complex Systems....It has possibly the largest reach of any non-governmental organization that I can think of in Canada into the universities and can open up a lot of possibilities in terms of awareness and news of the DSP. We reached out to MITACS to partner as a vehicle for delivering the DSP talks to the Canadian audience and in particular the university audiences, but also conferences and possibly industry opportunities...."
Gabriel profiles his extensive research history and shares valuable lessons from each of his top research areas.
"....I tend to switch gears every three to five years at the most, not necessarily switch jobs, but move from one area to another. To me it's very satisfying and exciting to learn new things and apply some of the knowledge that I've acquired through working in one area and possibly others....If I were to summarize the experiences that I've gathered along the way: first of all this possible translation of knowledge from one area to another and its use in it....From the Deep Blue matches — the most important lesson I learned were in human nature and the nature of competitiveness in a very intense field such as chess. More generally in terms of my acquisition of knowledge the keys to it were to ask the right questions, put together a self-motivated team that had diverse perspectives and enable them. Getting the team the resources that it needs to deliver on its mission is probably the key factor to success...."
Gabriel, you talked about your work at IBM; are there any additional insights you want to talk about in terms of your most difficult challenges, and the valuable lessons you wish to share from those challenges?
"....When you do research in an industrial environment the Holy Grail is to transfer technology from the work that you do in the research context and to find use in products or services or to contribute to improve some other processes that are used — whether it's to design hardware or develop software. As a researcher you have to have partners within those other parts of the enterprise that are your natural research recipients (who will eventually benefit from the work you do as a researcher). What I found over time is that you cannot do the research in isolation and then expect the recipient to trust what you’ve done is what they need....When you are doing this in collaboration and constant communication there's a much better chance of technology finding its way into a product...."
How did your time in Academia shape your current perspective?
"....I think it gave me a better understanding for the motivation and reward system that exists in academia and therefore it shaped the kind of agreements that I try to work on vis-a-vis universities. The biggest motivation for faculty is to find interesting problems to work on because that could open new areas for them for research giving ideas on thesis topics for the students and otherwise open opportunities for publication....The one thing that being in academia sort of highlighted for me is the role that students play in this equation both in terms of probably being the highest motivated individuals that you can run into....and they get a lot of value from working with industry at that stage of their careers...."
Prior to your time at CA, what were your most significant contributions in research management and what leadership insights can you share?
"....Deep Blue, the chess project….I was not part of the team that developed the actual chess machine; we helped in many of the surrounding issues. That probably gave me the best perspective on systems research....The second significant contribution had to do with this high bandwidth architecture that I mentioned earlier....Although it yielded some interesting insights its biggest value in my mind was as a thought leadership feat....My greatest satisfaction is the refinement of the collaborative research model that was started up in Toronto by the Centers of Advanced Studies at the IBM lab there several years prior to me joining the organization, I realize was such a compelling value proposition that upon finishing my assignment in Toronto after 3 years of leading the Centers of Advanced Studies there, I proposed to IBM to expand the Centers to other IBM locations...."
Can you get into more detail about the hurdles that you needed to overcome when setting up CA Labs?
"....When you come into a company that doesn't have a tradition of research you have to change the perspective. You have to develop the kind of trust that I was alluding to earlier in terms of bringing people on board early in the process, asking for their input and feedback on what you are trying to do explaining what is possible....The biggest challenge is to fight the quarter-by-quarter pressures of the business, and that is common not just in CA but in other companies that have a culture of research. Overcoming that kind of pressure by showing long-term possible benefits is always a challenge...."
How will you accomplish your top goals in your current position and how will you measure success for each of these goals?
"....First and foremost you need an outstanding team....The members of CA Labs are actually distributed around the world and in closest proximity to some of our large development teams....Another feature that we've developed within CA Labs over the last couple of years is tapping external funding for research in several countries....We also put in place a number of innovation programs to encourage more people to come up with good ideas....Another objective is to transfer technology both internally and externally....The work we have done with customers has been extremely enlightening. It gives you another perspective on what can be achieved from research...."
In your current managed research, what are your top challenges and top opportunities? How will the challenges be solved and the opportunities be actioned?
"....There is one challenge that divides into three for me and it's how dynamic our field is....Challenge 1 would be the continuous shift of the market. The second challenge is not unrelated to the shift of the market. It is CA's interests. CA is an extremely dynamic company. We adjust to the market by grouping products in a different way, by organizing ourselves and our go-to-market strategy a little bit different, basically on an on-going basis....The third which again is not unrelated to the other two is personnel moves....As far as the opportunities....Our participation in the definition of our corporate strategy process....We've created this process that uses the social media to gather that information from hundreds of contributors internally and synthesizing that into what we call the "world view". which includes everything from economic considerations and demographics, healthcare issues, the emerging markets and credit crisis, etc...."
Describe a few areas of controversy or much discussion in the areas that you research.
"....There's a lot of research being done on social networks both in terms of their impact, but also in the way that they can be manipulated....Cloud is another because it offers extreme benefits, especially lowering the threshold for smaller companies to access high quality and large capacity computing resources. There's lots of issues that come with the Cloud computing model, not the least of them have to do with legal issues....The third topic may surprise you but it's mainframes....Mainframes are not going away. The generation of programmers and administrators that were familiar with the mainframe are quickly approaching retirement age. So the question is, how do you staff all these installations that use the mainframes with highly skilled people?...."
"International Case Competition on the Strategic Value of IT Management" Can you describe what that is? Why this matters? How does the ACM fit in?
"....There are many that are international in flavor and are sponsored either by universities or companies but none of these really look specifically at the juncture of business and IT....So we decided to create a competition....This competition is all about giving Masters students (whether it's Information Systems, Business Administration or Computer Science) an opportunity to look at what they could be facing when they join workforce. IT in general is seen as the cost of doing business. We want to shift the conversation from cost to value....How does ACM fit in?....They really don't have the equivalent kind of opportunity for students who are focused more on the business side of IT. My hope would be that the ACM would consider participating in some way in this Case competition...."
How would you quantify the value of serving on academic advisory boards at several universities and research institutes around the world?
"....In general, industry is focused on shorter term issues and on specific skills of the technology of the day, whereas universities are more focused on a foundation of education and the ability of students to adapt over time and learn as technologies evolve....These two things are sometimes in tension, but through this dialogue I have found that it is profitable for both sides to see a shift in the education model or in the way education is delivered, but also the kind of topics that are being taught to better match the expectations of an employer when the student graduates and goes into the workforce...."
Can you share some of your top useful experiences as a Council Member-at-Large of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and also serving on editorial boards, as well as conference organizing and technical program committees?
"....A lot of what gets done in terms of conferences and publications and other events that further the profession and gives us a "seat at the table" when important things are being discussed is leveraging a professional association by its members. There's no other way to do the work....All these roles that you mentioned, being part of Council, serving on editorial board, helping organize conferences and serving on technical program committees they all fit under this broad category of service to the profession and giving back. Whenever I go and talk to students I stress the importance of being part of a profession and contributing...."
What are the key outcomes from being a member of the International Federation of Information Processing Working Group 10.3, and as a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Computer Society?
"....I would equate IEEE Computer Society to the experience with ACM. It's a professional association, most of its members are still US-based although things are changing particularly with ACM....IFIP is a little bit different. It is more international in flavor, has membership from many countries....That again is a more diverse group of people that bring different perspectives to the table...."
Why should practitioners, researchers, academics, executives, people from government and various domains join non-profit associations?
"....In general, there is the professional side and there's the human side of things. On the professional side I think it is your duty as a professional to enable others to have access to the benefits of the profession....On the human side of the equation there are things that happen in our society that should not. But we cannot expect our government to take care and fix everything that is wrong with the world. A lot of it depends on individuals identifying issues that they care about and when they do it's really to participate in their solution...."
What specific technologies should IT practitioners embrace today and into the future?
"....It's hard to predict the future, it's much easier to make it....One of the strong trends that we see today is what we refer to as the "consumerization of IT"....Not too different from that is the issue of "mobility"....I think that's a very strong trend that we're going to see developing over the next couple of years....I think that from a technology point of view both in terms of hardware and software solutions, focusing on Green IT will be important over the next few years...."
What specific technologies should businesses embrace today and in the future? Is it the same as in the previous question where I asked how it pertained to IT practioners?
"....I think there is a large overlap between the two questions. But if I were starting a business today I would really focus on using the Cloud as a platform to deliver whatever products and services I was developing. If I was an existing business with lots of legacy I would look at ways to adapt the products and services to the Cloud...."
Earlier I mentioned predicting the future. If you had no boundaries in terms of that question what would be your predictions and also their implications, and how we can best prepare?
"....Almost every business today is now about information and you have to understand how that information affects your business....What I think is the Holy Grail in the software side but also in the hardware side is reuse. The reuse of your efforts, planning, designing, and executing for reuse is extremely important....Sharing of knowledge, sharing of insight and sharing the product of your effort — when you do that you create a better more nimble organization that is able to deliver better and faster. That to me is the way to best prepare for the future...."
What are your thoughts on computing as a recognized profession like medicine and law, with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, and recognized credentials?
[See www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....I think we are still a bit away from reaching the status of medicine and law....Almost every other profession has an information or computing component that requires professionals to take part in and therefore the demand for people in the computing profession is still strong. Employers will just take what's available and if necessary train to give them the skills that are necessary to perform within their environment. As long as we don't see the employers really get behind this initiative I think it will be very hard to get to the point where each computing professional has to be part of an association or some other body that gives them credentials...."
Gabriel shares three stories from his extensive travels and work. (something surprising, humorous, amazing).
If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....People ask me....Why should someone get a PhD?....Assuming one has their PhD, should one take a career in industry or academia?....How do you pick your next job?...."