If you asked Shubho Sen what advice he would give to young people today, you might notice the slightest hesitation. You see, Shubho believes that most advice is rooted in one's own world view, but if you pressed, he would offer this one suggestion:
"Be open with your mind. Research innovation tends to spring from the most unexpected of places. Keep your eyes and ears open; accept new ideas, even if at the beginning they're counter to your own world view. I think that's important for figuring out what new trend is coming and what is the next problem to solve."
The world view that Shubho brings to AT&T Labs begins far from his current home. As a child in Eastern India, Shubho was drawn to mathematics and mechanics from an early age. "I've always been attracted to the type of problems that are intellectually hard, but yet the solutions are practical and useful to people."
Fast forward to today, and Shubho is applying that same spark of curiosity he uncovered in his youth as a researcher at AT&T Labs, where he spends his time examining network management and performance to enhance the user experience. One such project he leads is creating the technologies behind the Application Resource Optimization (ARO) tool, which makes a positive impact on the user experience by helping developers create apps that are more battery and data usage friendly.
In a broad sense, what do you do here at AT&T?
A lot of my research has been in the space of improving network performance. I try to measure what network experience people are getting, because you first need to measure performance to be able to understand problems and try to solve them.
Tell me about some of the projects you've been working on?
A lot of the work that I've been involved in the last several years has been focused on resource efficiency.
One of the projects is ARO. The overall goal of ARO is to develop technologies to make mobile apps more battery-friendly, more responsive to the user and more efficient in the amount of data they use. Often, app developers write their applications somewhat agnostic of how it will interact with the wireless network, and we have built tools and techniques for developers to better design their applications.
Another project I'm working on deals with cloud computing. We are at a technology cusp, where we have devices with a small form factor by design; however, they carry a lot of punch, and the horsepower is only going to increase. On the other hand, device batteries present a constrained resource. We're looking at how to design applications to determine what functionality should reside in the device and what should reside in the cloud, so that overall the energy usage on the device is minimized and the cost to the end user is reduced.
How else does your work impact the consumer?
In addition to the benefits that ARO provides, another impactful area we've explored is caching. Caching is the technique whereby, when someone downloads data from the network, you keep it locally on the device for the next time they request the same piece of data, rather than tapping the network. We have seen you can save anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of network data traffic just by caching things properly. How does this make an impact? The network benefits because less data is sent over the network. The end users benefit since they get to see their content much faster when it is delivered from the local cache instead of the network, and because their data plans can then go a longer way.
Can you tell us your background, and what interested you in AT&T Labs?
I grew up in Eastern India, and I completed my undergrad there and then my higher level studies here in the United States. When I graduated, I looked at both academia and industry startups, but there were a few things that attracted me to AT&T. There is a great bunch of researchers working here, and freedom to pursue your research. ARO is a perfect example. It came out of our intellectual curiosity and benefitted both the company and the industry in a big way.
What inspired you as a young person to pursue computer science?
My undergrad, masters and PhD are all in computer science, and what attracted me to the field, was the fact that it's very mathematical. I've loved math since childhood. Computer science was the field that matched my natural inclination.
What's your most exciting moment working here or a particular breakthrough?
Every day brings its own different type of excitement, but the ARO project presented a situation where you have a problem that's very interesting, new and has a broad impact on users. Considering the efficiencies that the ARO tool can bring in doubling the battery life, those type of double digit scenarios are very hard to come by, and I love it for that reason.
AT&T's Application Resource Optimization tool helps developers create more efficient apps. When devices move between energy states — idle to full power, for example — it consumes network resources and device battery life. In the case of an inefficient app, unnecessary promotions or demotions from one energy state to the next can quickly drain a device's power, while also monopolizing the wireless network. For example, transmitting data in many short bursts rather than one large burst is inefficient, as each data transmission requires that the device transition to a high power state in order to connect to the wireless network.