TU Wien Informatics

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#5QW: Ivona Brandic

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For our first edition of “Five Questions With …”, we visited Ivona Brandic, professor for High Performance Computing Systems, at her laboratory.

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© Luiza Puiu, luizapuiu.com
About

Ivona Brandic is University Professor for High Performance Computing Systems at the Institute of Information Systems Engineering (TU Wien). In 2015 she was awarded the FWF START prize, the most prestigious Austrian award for early-career researchers. Since 2016 she is member of the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

How did you get in touch with informatics?

Actually, my father enrolled me in a programming course when I was twelve years old. I was not very enthusiastic about it and didn't want to attend it at all. But at some point I just agreed. I attended the course and felt deeply disappointed with the bad didactics. Yet after the course I decided I had to learn more about it. I wanted to figure out how these things worked.

Which talents should people bring along for a career in informatics?

Perseverance! This is really important. You can't be thin-skinned. Setbacks are on the agenda, but they shouldn't keep you from carrying on with your work.

What are the challenges in your research area?

Things change very quickly. You have to keep pace with the scientific and industrial developments: new fields appear constantly. You have to beware of that and to ask yourself: Can I contribute, is it the right target for me? You have to be quite active and everything is dynamic. Just an example: Going on maternity leave for a year and doing nothing is very dangerous, because when you return, there is a completely new landscape. You need to be active! You have to read and follow what is happening and to try to contribute as much as you can, because it is a highly dynamic field. It is essential to keep the pace and to be very selective what you are focussing on in order to survive in the scientific world. There is not enough time to cover all the things, so you have to prioritise: self organisation, self responsibility—you’re on your own. Nobody says what you have to do. It’s your own decision where you want to be active and to contribute. Sometimes it might turn out to be the wrong research area. It’s not always obvious or predictable what will be successful in the next year. Sometimes you arrive at dead ends, but this is a valuable experience: “Okay, this was not the right way, so I’ll go back and look in another direction. But this, too, is a part of science you have to learn to accept.

Where do you see the connection between your research and every-day life?

Without my research you wouldn’t be able to upload your pictures to Instagram or Facebook, for example, or to interact with powerful applications on your smartphone. Or you couldn't use the large data centres that operate in clouds to upload and store your data. Probably most of the recent companies would not even exist without the output of my research area because we work on the fundamental flexibility that these systems are built upon. It facilitates new business models and new ways of interaction with systems.

What was the highlight of your career so far?

There are certainly some highlights, for example the acceptance of the first paper at a conference. This is something very memorable for every scientist, because the community acknowledges your work and is interested in what you have to say—that makes every PhD student blossom. There are several such occasions: the acceptance of your first project proposal to receive funds for your research. This makes you grow as a person and as a scientist. Or when you have your first PhD student that finishes under your supervision. And you become his or her PhD mum or dad—this is something which makes me very proud: I gave knowledge and guidance, and now he or she has become a stand-alone scientist. These are very emotional moments, too, and you will forever remember them.

Interview: Claudia Vitt, 2019