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Noghabi wins Microsoft grant for underrepresented students

7/13/2017 4:18:57 PM David Mercer, CS @ ILLINOIS

A CS @ ILLINOIS doctoral student has won one of the first grants from a new Microsoft Research program aimed at supporting underrepresented groups in computing.

Shadi Noghabi is one of the 12 winners chosen from among 200 applicants at U.S. and Canadian universities for the new Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant program. She will receive $20,000 to work on her thesis topic, “Building Large-scale Production Systems for Latency-sensitive Applications.”

CS Ph.D. student Shadi Noghabi
CS Ph.D. student Shadi Noghabi
She says the project is an outgrowth of her research and internships at LinkedIn and Microsoft Research, and she believes it could have real-world applications for both the average person using social media and more critical consumer products.

“When you’re uploading a photo to your album on Facebook, if it takes 10 minutes for you to do that, it’s just frustrating for the user and you start losing your users,” Noghabi said. “Or let’s say you have a self-driving car, if the latency is too much,” the car might not be safe.

Noghabi says most of her work has been linked to large-scale production systems with, in some cases, hundreds of millions of users. She has contributed to Ambry, the geo-distributed media store used by LinkedIn to store many of its media projects, and to Apache Samza, an open-source stream processing engine used by LinkedIn, Uber and others.

Her work, one of Noghabi’s professors says, helps set her apart.

“She has collaborated closely with teams building production systems in industry, not just research systems, but by building real systems that cater to real users,” said Indranil Gupta, an associate professor of Computer Science.

As part of the grant, Noghabi will attend a two-day mentoring workshop this fall at the Microsoft Research Redmond Lab where she will meet established researchers, hear from the company’s senior leaders about Microsoft’s scientific work and present a talk on her dissertation research.

Noghabi is also one of Roy Campbell’s students. Campbell, who is the Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Professor in Computer Science, said she will benefit from spending time at the lab.

“She is a leader and independent self-starter and this opportunity will allow her to meet new colleagues and to develop her own research skills,” he said.

Noghabi says her love of computing began early, at age 4, on a PC that belonged to her father.

“I kind of broke it,” she said, laughing. “They had to throw it away.”

She believes the Microsoft grant will help her follow the path she set out on with that broken PC, toward a leadership role in her profession.

“I can move toward becoming a more influential person and also inspire other women to chase their dream,” she said.