Albert, an AGU Master’s student in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Dpt. originating from Kenya, got the chance to complete a 3-month internship for Microsoft Research Center in Barcelona (Spain). He is sharing here with us the story of his amazing journey…
I would like to tell you the story of my three-month stay in one of the most amazing cities in the world, Barcelona!
But I have this feeling that this story will not be as complete as I would love it to be unless I start from the very beginning. Not my arrival to the airport, nope. That’s not the beginning. Heck this should actually start with the story of how I became a graduate student in the first place but that will be available for another Blog post.
But let me just start by appreciating and recognizing the people at the Abdullah Gül University (AGU) who made it happen.
- Dr Gulay Yalcin who is my advisor and supervisor. I am more than glad to have such an amazing person as my supervisor and this would not have happened without her
- Then there are the people at AGU Erasmus office, your help will forever be appreciated.
So now back to the story…
In September 2015 after much discussions with my inner self, family and friends I joined the Abdullah Gül University as a Master’s student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. That’s of course after fulfilling the very demanding admission requirements required to be accepted by AGU.
If you asked me at that time, I was convinced I was going to specialize in artificial intelligence as it looked like the most attractive field to me. Besides, I had also taken some artificial intelligence courses as an “undergrad” and knew a thing or two on the topic.
In the second semester, I reluctantly took the Computer Architecture course. Little did I know that I would end up specializing in this field! You see the thing is, Computer Architecture was one of those courses I could barely pass during my Undergraduate studies (they called it Computer Organization then). In the first week of classes, I made it clear to my professor that am not so sure about the course and her reply was “Don’t worry you will love this! ”
…And she was right!
Half way down the semester, I had gotten really interested in the course and started discussions with my professor about a possible thesis topic on Computer Architecture. It was clear to me that this is what I wanted to do more than anything else. After reading several papers on different areas of Computer Architecture and numerous meetings, Dr Gulay agreed to work with me on my thesis.
This good piece of news led to another …in the next few days, Dr Gulay arranged an internship at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. This was a dream come true. I was super excited about it. After several trips to Ankara I got my visa (trust me the visa process is very painful for a Kenyan guy, half way down the line you seriously wanna give up) and on the 6th of June I left Turkey for what would be the best time as a graduate student so far…
I fell in love with Barcelona right after arriving. They had this super awesome immigration guys who barely looked at my passport before stamping it. Then there were these two guys I met just outside the airport and asked them where to get the bus to the city center and after pointing me in the right direction said “Enjoy Barcelona bro ! Its awesome”. It was like the universe was telling me, this is gonna be awesome.
My internship started the next day, there was no time to waste. I remember walking into the office the first day and this super nice lady introducing me to everyone in the office. Everyone was either a senior researcher, a postdoc or a PhD student.
For some time I really felt out of place. Two more interns joined me later and I finally felt a little bit relaxed. My advisor Dr Osman arrived much later and after getting to know each other finally (we had exchanged lots of emails) he told me to pick a desk and a monitor and get to work.
I would get a tour of the supercomputer later. Named MareNostrum, the supercomputer is the most powerful in Spain, housed in a chapel. I remember standing above it and thinking about the terabytes of data being processed every second. I had read about supercomputers since high school, but seeing one was something different. With over 10.000 processors, this supercomputer is used for research in areas such as human genome research, protein research, astrophysical simulations, weather forecasting, geological or geophysical modeling, and the design of new drugs.
(By courtesy of Barcelona Supercomputing Center – www.bsc.es)
The next three months would shape my life in the best way i have ever wished for, both personally and professionally.
The first thing I liked about the “Barcelona Supercomputing Center” was its office hour policy for interns. I have never really been a morning person. I have, for as long as I can remember, considered waking up at 7 AM torture. I am okay with working all night but not waking up early. The fact that reporting time to work was 10 AM was the best thing that could happen to me. I could report to work at 10 or 11 and work till whatever time I wanted. As long as I completed the task at hand, I never got in trouble with my supervisors. On many days I could leave the office past midnight and just cycle home.
The people at the office would turn out to be the best colleagues ever. You could just walk into any one of them and ask pretty much anything. Even though most of them were very senior researchers, they spared their time to help me out when I got stuck. I remember this one time, Dr. Leonardo spent three hours with me trying to fix a memory leak (One very painful bug computer guys have to deal with); we didn’t succeed. I only fixed the problem two weeks later. Then there were the celebrations in the office whenever someone did something remarkable, like publishing a paper or defending his/her thesis successfully. They opened a bottle of Cava and we all celebrated together or went to the pizza joint next to the office.
Weekends were the best. There was always something to look forward to. The guys at the office were full of plans. Sometimes we could go to some hidden beach north of Barcelona and spend the whole day snorkelling and swimming. Other times it was just trying out foreign foods. One weekend, someone from Mexico would take us to a Mexican restaurant, then Argentinian restaurant, then Iranian… Too bad there were no Kenyan restaurants, but I got a chance to try foods from every country that was represented in the office.
Perhaps the best thing about my internship is that I got to work entirely on my Master’s thesis and that I did this with the help of some of the best minds and best facilities the world can offer!
My thesis involved studying the reliability of machine learning and artificial intelligence applications with the intention to design much more reliable computer architectures at the end of the research. Dr. Leonardo helped revise my thesis proposal up to 4 times and gave me my first ever experience in scientific writing. I really looked forward to the daily meetings I had with him.
The last day was kind of sad. But then my colleagues organized the traditional last lunch they usually organize for interns before their departure. This time they chose an Argentinian restaurant where I got to try Argentinian beef for the first time.
I must say that this 3-month internship at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center was the ultimate experience of my academic and professional journey. First for the exposure it gave me to the world of research. I got an opportunity to interact and learn from some of the best minds in computer architecture research. As I continue with my thesis and plans for a strong PhD position, I am confident that skills and experience gained at BSC will play a big role. I of course definitely recommend anyone to check out the many opportunities offered at AGU for graduate studies and am available if you need more info about my internship or studies at AGU.
You can reach me here: firstname.lastname@example.org