CSE Graduate Students in Center for Networked Systems End Academic Year with Ph.D. Degrees and New Jobs

As of early July, 15 Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Ph.D. candidates affiliated with the Center for Networked Systems (CNS) have graduated or are expected to graduate in the academic year from October 2016 through September 2017. Unlike last year, when half the Ph.D. graduates went to work for Google, there is much more variety in their waiting employers this year. Here’s a recap of this year’s CNS graduating Ph.D. class (in reverse chronological order), starting with three students tentatively scheduled to defend their doctoral dissertations between now and the end of August as members of the Ph.D. “Class of ’17”.

CNS Graduate Students 2017
l-r, top: Yuxing (Danny) Huang, Tianyin Xu, Eric Seidel, Panagiotis Vekris, and Yanqin Jin
l-r, middle: Yashar Asgarieh, Alan Leung, Xinxin Jin, Daniel Ricketts, and Michael Wei
l-r, bottom: Pietro Mercati , Yang (Robert) Liu, Meenakshi Sundaram Bhaskaran, Niki Vazou, Ming Woo-Kawaguchi

Yuxing (Danny) Huang (Ph.D. ’17) is interviewing for postdoc positions as he puts finishing touches to his dissertation. His final defense is scheduled for August 31 before his co-advisors Alex Snoeren and Kirill Levchenko, who co-chair his faculty committee. Huang uses economics to study malicious behaviors on the Internet, including the economics of a wide variety of ransomware to better understand victims and how many of them pay in response to ransom demands. Huang received his B.A. in Computer Science from Williams College in 2011, the same year he enrolled in the Ph.D. program at UC San Diego. He did back-to-back summer internships at Google in 2014 and 2015.

On August 28, Tianyin Xu (Ph.D. ’17) will defend his dissertation on hardening cloud and datacenter systems against configuration errors, but he already has a great job lined up. He will become an assistant professor of Computer Science next January at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), where he accepted a tenure=track appointment pending completion of his Ph.D. Xu’s advisor, YY Zhou, taught at UIUC for seven years before joining the UC San Diego faculty (and CNS) in 2009. For his part, Xu’s research focuses on the reliability and security of computer systems, and in particular, large-scale software systems deployed in the cloud and in datacenters. In 2017 Xu received CSE’s Doctoral Award for Research, and last November he received the Jay Lepreau Best Paper Award at the 12th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI 2016) for his paper on “Early Detection of Configuration Errors to Reduce Failure Damage.” In 2013 and 2016, Xu presented at CNS Research Reviews, and he did summer internships in 2013 and 2015 at former CNS member company NetApp.

This fall, Eric Seidel (M.S., Ph.D. ’16, ’17) will join Bloomberg LP in New York after defending his Ph.D. dissertation on August 2. His research interests include programming languages, data and ubiquitous computing. As a graduate research assistant in the lab of his advisor Ranjit Jhala, Seidel built a tool to synthesize counter-examples to type errors. The tool performs type-checking along with execution, and produces trace demonstrating of how a program gets stuck. Seidel also worked on a refinement type-based verifier for Haskell. Together with Jhala and recent CNS and CSE alumna Niki Vazou, Seidel implemented an efficient testing framework using refinement types to prune the input search space. Seidel received a B.S. in Computer Science from the City College of New York in 2012.

In addition to the three Ph.D. candidates preparing for their all-important dissertation defenses in August, 12 other researchers in CNS-affiliated labs have already completed and defended their dissertations as of July for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Panagiotis Vekris (M.S., Ph.D. ’14, ’17) is joining Facebook after completing his final defense on July 7 of his Ph.D. dissertation on “Precise Type Checking for JavaScript.” His doctoral committee includes three CNS faculty members (advisor Ranjit Jhala as well as Sorin Lerner and Yannis Papakonstantinou). Vekris arrived at UC San Diego in 2011 from Greece, where he did his undergraduate degree at the National Technical University of Athens. In graduate school, he focused on programming languages, program analysis as well as verification and type systems. With JavaScript’s rapid growth and presence as one of the main technologies powering the Internet, testing is a valuable ally, but it falls short with respect to program coverage and formal correctness guarantees. In his thesis, Vekris proposes static type-based analysis. “Our goals are early bug detection, code intelligence for editors, and verifying specifications,” explains Vekris.

Yanqin Jin (Ph.D. ’17) worked in the Non-Volatile Systems Laboratory under his advisor, Steven Swanson. His research interests include storage system design and implementation with modern storage technologies, as well as database and filesystem optimization for modern storage devices (including solid-state drives). Jin’s dissertation focused on “Modernizing Storage Device Interface for Performance and Reliability,” and his faculty committee was co-chaired by Swanson and co-advisor Yannis Papakonstantinou. His advisors also co-authored (with Jin as first author) a paper on key-addressable multi-log solid-state drives (KAML), which he presented at the 2017 IEEE Symposium on High Performance Computer Architecture (HPCA 2017). Early in graduate school, Jin did three summer internships with leading technology companies: Twitter (2012), Oracle (2011) and Microsoft (2010). The Microsoft internship took place in Beijing immediately Jin completed his undergraduate degree at China’s Tsinghua University.

Yashar Asgarieh (Ph.D. ’17) now works at NVIDIA after completing his Ph.D. under advisor Bill Lin. His dissertation explored “Making the On-Chip World Smaller with Low-Latency On-Chip Networks”. With the proliferation of cores since the first dual-core processor, embedded multi-cores today can have over 100 cores. Asgarieh focused on how to improve on the state-of-the-art shared Network on Chip (NoC) as the best way to connect cores. His solution: to “make the on-chip world appear smaller by providing extremely low-latency networks that can make faraway resources appear much closer.” While in grad school, Asgarieh did summer internships at Facebook and the Embedded Systems Lab at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. Asgarieh did his undergraduate degree and M.Sc. in Computer Engineering at the Iran University of Science and Technology and Sharif University of Technology, respectively.

Alan Leung (M.S., Ph.D. ’13, ’17) developed novel algorithms and implementations in the areas of compiler design, program analysis, program verification and program synthesis. Under advisor Sorin Lerner, Leung successfully defended his dissertation on “Constructing Parsers by Example via Interactive Program Synthesis.” In his thesis, Leung argued that “it is possible to make parsing more accessible by combining interactive visual feedback with the programming-by-example paradigm.” Prior to UC San Diego, Leung spent five years as a microprocessor design engineer at Intel, where he designed cache memory systems for two generations of Itanium microprocessors that successfully went to market. Leung did his undergraduate degree at Cornell University.

Xinxin Jin (Ph.D. ‘17) is working for Whova, the event-app startup founded by her advisor, YY Zhou, who also ran the Opera operating systems lab where Jin did research in software / hardware reliability, operating systems and mobile computing. Jin wrote her dissertation on “Tooling and Language Support for Robust and Easy Network Programming of Mobile Applications.” “I build infrastructure and mobile apps to make them run reliably and faster,” says Jin. “My mission is to revolutionize event networking and management via technology.” Jin likes the atmosphere and size of a startup, so instead of applying for a faculty position, she opted to stay with Whova. She could also have applied to a large technology company (like Microsoft, where she did a summer internship in 2015), but according to advisor YY Zhou, “Xinxin feels more comfortable in an entrepreneurial environment.” Prior to arriving at UC San Diego in 2011, Jin completed her M.S. from Peking University in 2011 and a B.S. from the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications in 2008.

In February, Daniel Ricketts (Ph.D. ’17) defended his dissertation on “Verification of Sampled-Data Systems using Coq” (a proof assistant). His advisor, Sorin Lerner, chaired the dissertation committee, which included fellow CNS member Ranjit Jhala. Following completion of his Ph.D., Ricketts joined Oracle as a software engineer in the greater Seattle area. His goal: to apply formal verification to practical problems in industry. At UC San Diego Ricketts did research on formal verification of cyber-physical systems using the Coq proof assistant. As a graduate student, Ricketts worked on the VeriDrone project, which involved a formal verification process to ensure safety of quadcopter software.

Michael Wei (M.S., Ph.D. ’12, ’17) is now a postdoctoral researcher at VMware, where he previously did an internship during graduate school. Wei is a past recipient of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships (in 2011 and 2012) and he pursued research in embedded systems, non-volatile systems, computer architecture, security, and energy. Prior to completing his Ph.D, Wei worked on reliably erasing solid-state disks (SSDs) under his advisor, Steven Swanson. In his dissertation on “Corfu: A Platform for Scalable Consistency,” Wei made the case for why the proposed Corfu platform simplifies development without sacrificing performance. “Consistency and scalability are often seen to be at odds with one another,” explained Wei, “and many popular data stores have traded consistency for scalability as part of a movement known as NoSQL… [which] makes writing reliable, feature-rich distributed applications much more difficult.” In addition to Swanson, Wei’s Ph.D. committee included other CNS member faculty, including George Porter, Alex Snoeren, and Geoffrey Voelker.

Pietro Mercati (Ph.D. ’17) is now a research scientist at Intel Corp. He completed his Ph.D. under advisor Tajana Rosing, with a dissertation on “Power, Thermal, Reliability and Variability Management of Mobile Devices.” In it, Mercati proposed the design and implementation of a novel unified framework for the comprehensive dynamic management of power, temperature reliability and variability in mobile systems subject to user experience requirements. As Mercati outlined in his thesis, the proposed strategy meets user experience requirements while extending battery lifetimes by at least 25 percent and achieving up to 35 percent savings in power consumption at the device level (and up to 100 percent improved performance on cluster architectures). Mercati completed his Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees at the University of Bologna (Italy) prior to arriving at UC San Diego in 2013.

Yang (Robert) Liu (Ph.D. ’17) is a principal engineer for R&D engineering at Western Digital. He did his dissertation on “Systems and Algorithm Support for Efficient Heterogeneous Computing with GPUs” under advisor Steven Swanson. Liu worked for Swanson in the Non-Volatile Systems Laboratory (NVSL). Liu’s research explored the design space in next-generation storage systems, while rethinking the interface between software and hardware in computer systems (e.g., improving the performance of the MapReduce framework by applying new hardware and better scheduling). Liu also worked previously with CNS member YY Zhou on software reliability, and did a summer internship at Broadcom. Prior to UC San Diego, he earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees from China’s Beihang University and Tsinghua University, respectively.

Of all the Ph.D. graduates affiliated with CNS this year, only three completed their dissertation defense and other requirements by the end of December, thus allowing them to put 2016 as their graduating year on their CVs. They included:

Meenakshi Sundaram Bhaskaran (M.S., Ph.D. ’12, ’16) also worked in NVSL under his advisor, Steven Swanson. He completed the degree in Computer Engineering in December 2016 with a dissertation on “Micro-Architecture and Systems Support for Emerging Non-Volatile Memories.” In it, Bhaskaran proposed “Non-Blocking Load (NBLD), an instruction set extension to mitigate pipeline stalls from long-latency memory accesses… NBLD triggers the execution of application-specific code once data is resident in the cache, effectively hiding the latency of memory.” Prior to UC San Diego, Bhaskaran was an engineer at SanDisk India in Bangalore, after completing his undergraduate degree at Anna University (also in India).

Niki Vazou (Ph.D. ’16) is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland in the Programming Language group after completing her Ph.D. last December. Her research continues to focus on designing usable program verifiers that can be integrated into standard software development. Her dissertation under advisor Ranjit Jhala, “Liquid Haskell: Haskell as a Theorem Prover”, drew on expertise in static program verification, type systems, type inference, abstract interpretation, functional programming, Haskell, Liquid Types and more. In it, Vazou presented LiquidHaskell, a usable, static formal verifier for Haskell programs, which she used to verify more than 10,000 lines of real-world Haskell programs. As Vazou noted in her abstract, “LiquidHaskell serves as a prototype verifier in a future where formal techniques will be used to facilitate, instead of hinder, software development.” In 2015 Vazou received the CSE Graduate Award for Research. The previous year, she won a Microsoft Graduate Research Fellowship (after doing two internships at Microsoft Research facilities in Washington State and at Cambridge in Britain). In 2016 Vazou did a summer internship at Awake Networks in Mountain View, CA, where she used LiquidHaskell to verify correctness on Awake’s production code base.

Ming Woo-Kawaguchi (B.S., M.S., Ph.D. ’05, ’08, ‘16) is a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University. He completed his Ph.D. in late 2016 after having done most of his work as a graduate student researcher in the Programming Systems group in CSE from 2005 to 2012. From 2014 to 2016 Woo-Kawaguchi was on the technical staff of the Draper Laboratory near Boston before he decided to complete his Ph.D. Under advisor Ranjit Jhala, Woo-Kawaguchi did his dissertation on “High-Level Liquid Types ,” in which he proposed “several augmentations of the Liquid Types method of automatic program verification for uniformly describing high-level specifications and for verifying that source doe is correct with respect to such specifications.” In addition to Jhala, two other CNS members – Sorin Lerner and Geoffrey Voelker – sat on the five-person committee that quizzed Woo-Kawaguchi in his belated but final defense of his dissertation last October.

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CNS Graduating Students in 2015-2016