(Interview) Eugen Feller talks about his experience as an Inria@SiliconValley Post-doc

Eugen Feller

Eugen Feller © Inria

Eugen Feller is finishing up his Postdoctoral Fellowship with the DALHIS associate team in the framework of  the Inria@SiliconValley program. Let’s take a look back on how he got where he is now.

So Eugen, how did you end up at Inria first?
I received the Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Computer Science from the Heinrich Heine University (HHU) Düsseldorf, Germany and I was a research assistant there. I had never lived outside of my hometown and was hoping to discover something new.  Prof. Dr. Michael Schöttner was my supervisor and he was collaborating with Dr Christine Morin, at Inria (Myriads project team). I came at Inria for a 3-month internship first in her team in 2009 within the XtremeOS European project – Christine became my co-advisor for my Master’s thesis.  A PhD position was available then under Christine’s supervision within the EcoGrappe project which goal was to design an energy-efficient operating system for data centers , and I liked Rennes, the team… so I came back for the PhD.

You won a prize for your thesis?
During my PhD, I worked on energy management in large scale data centers. One core contribution of my thesis was the Snooze Cloud management system. Basically, I proposed a scalable and highly available and energy efficient cloud management system and I implemented it.  I made the design, organized the implementation, and it is a real system and it can be used now by researchers and also in production.  That work was honoured by the Second PhD thesis award of University of Rennes 1 in the Computer Science category in 2013. It’s basically a system which allows to manage large data centers because it’s a hierarchical system, and it also implements mechanisms to recover from failures and also to save energy by turning on and off servers when needed.  It was a nice project, it turned out to be very useful and there is now an engineer, Mathieu Simonin, who was hired by Inria to support this system.

Then, how did you hear about the Inria@SiliconValley program?
I heard about the program through Christine. Christine has spent a 2-year sabbatical within the program at the LBNL. She was my PhD advisor and she went while I was in my 2nd year. After some time, she told me about the postdoc program: California, Silicon Valley, that was such an opportunity. I was almost finished with my thesis so I applied for the program.  I basically joined the program because of Christine.

How was it paperwork-wise? Any difficulties?
It is not too difficult for a European to get to the US. Your US host organization is organizing most of the paperwork for your J1 visa, Research-Scholar visa.  You need then to get to your local US embassy.

Who did you work with during your time at the LBNL ?
I was hired as a postdoc at LBNL. It’s a National Lab operated by the US department of Energy. It’s managed by the University of California : it’s a multi-disciplinary national lab. I was hosted in the Data Intensive Systems Group of the Advanced Computing for Science Department at the LBNL. My hosts were Deb Agarwal, Christine Morin and Lavanya Ramakrishnan.

How did you fit in?
I was surprised how easy it was to fit in : I was warmly welcomed, the people of the lab were very nice to me. Everyone was helpful regarding the paperwork and adjustments of life on campus…. I could basically start working straight away!

Do you have one thing that could be the highlight of your stay?
I got to meet a Nobel prize winner : Saul Perlmutter. He won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.  I got to have lunch with him. He actually even has a street named after him on the lab premises. This is one of the most amazing thing… I do research on software, I build software for scientists. So we got to collaborate closely with scientists from different groups, like maths, physics, earth science…
Not only did I meet Saul Perlmutter, but I got to work with brilliant people from all areas of science and this is invaluable.

Was there any bad drawbacks in your experience/memory?
There was nothing really bad. I even got to go kayaking last summer with my work colleagues at a lake close to the house of my supervisor Deb Agarwal : she invited the people from the lab at her house for a barbecue and a kayak session in the afternoon.
Well,  LBNL being a National Lab and not a University, there was not a lot of students and many of my co-workers had families…. So it was not easy at first to socialize, because it is a different environment. But we also had a lot of interns coming to the lab (it works closely with Indiana University and Binghamton University) so I managed to socialize well with them as well. This is not a bad thing though, it is just different.

What do you think about the program?
It is a great program. It provides people like me with a unique opportunity to work in the Silicon Valley which is not that easy for us from Europe because there is a lot of competition coming from the USA, India, China… and we get to work with brilliant minds! It’s a top-notch place to be : it also opens great opportunities. The Silicon Valley is around the corner, with its companies and job offers. Without the program, I am not sure I would have had the offers I got. Being there is so much easier to meet the people you’re basically doing research for. From that perspective, it’s been a great experience to be in this environment, to work in the USA, to have these experiences, to meet these smart people, to live on this campus and to see how people do research in the USA…

What are your plans now?
I got a job offer from Ericsson Research Silicon Valley lab and I’ll be joining them at the end of April.
Ericsson applied for the O1 visa for me: it required a lot of paperwork, took a long time, and certainly cost a bit of money. They liked my profile and Inria and LBNL are names for them. Having this postdoc helped a lot for this position at Ericsson. I will be working as a technical lead on cutting-edge projects in the area of cloud computing and big data. I will also interact closely with academia and the Ericsson business units.
I am very thankful to Christine Morin, the LBNL ACS department  and to the program. This is a unique chance. LBNL is an excellent place to be : it is an edge-cutter to have that on your resume.

Source: Interview by Charlotte Peyrat-Vaganay, International Relations Correspondant at Inria Rennes Research Center, on April 15th, 2014