Solving Problems from the Classroom to the Real World

May 05, 2016
By Jen Yates

Last month, we invited university students to AT&T Labs to attend our Research Academic Summit. The goal? Introduce them to our unique technical challenges and strengthen our tie with the academic community in performing joint research. 

“It was so interesting to see how AT&T does research,” said Zhiyuan Teo, 5th-year PhD student from Cornell University. “I learned the team does real research – motivated by practical concerns.”

AT&T speakers from Research, Operations and Management kicked off the Summit by talking about our work building a software-centric network. We connected 1-on-1 with students to talk about the challenges in SDN and NFV and see demos of their current research projects. Zhiyuan shared a demo on network processing with an open flow component.

Participants showcased projects in early and mature stages. And in the end, we picked 2 winners “most likely to revolutionize the telecommunications industry.”

  • 3rd-year John Hopkins PhD student, Zaoxing Liu, won for creating a universal algorithm on the hardware switch. It can monitor and solve multiple problems at once unlike the usual design that only solves 1 problem at a time.

“The summit completely changed my view of what I thought AT&T did,” said Zaoxing. “It’s not just monitoring; it’s actually resolving the issues and troubleshooting the whole solution end-to-end.”

  • 3rd-year Princeton PhD student, Ryan Beckett, won for simplifying the process of configuring networks. He developed a language to describe constraints on network-wide behavior.  He also created a compiler to generate low-level, device-by-device configurations from a high-level specification.

“I loved how the Academic Summit helped me see how AT&T is solving real-world problems,” said Ryan. “In school, you definitely focus more on the theoretical.” 

We know this program is a win-win for AT&T employees and academia. And the feedback we received on the Academic Summit confirmed it. Without industry engagement, it can be a challenge for academics to identify problems that really matter to industry. As they create new technology, they need the industry involvement to ensure that they are focusing on pressing and relevant technical issues.

Likewise, we aim to tap into the minds of professors and students alike to solve pressing problems faced by our industry. At AT&T Labs, we focus our research on solving extremely complex, real-world problems and putting those solutions into large-scale deployments.

We have an intense thirst to advance the network and services you know today. Our collaborations with universities bring together the minds from AT&T Research and academia to tackle many of these challenges – giving birth to new ideas and driving them to operational reality.

Looking ahead, we’ll continue to work with the academic community to enhance the network experience for our customers.  Events like AT&T Labs’ Research Academic Summit are a key part of our overall initiative to build and strengthen our academic engagements.

For more information on how AT&T is collaborating with academia, please contact us

Jen Yates is an Assistant Vice President at AT&T Labs, heading the Networking and Service Quality Management Research organization.

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