Chat with Reda Alhajj, Global Top Scientist Shares Deep Insights and Special Tips on Imagine Cup Winning Apps
Reda Alhajj received his B.Sc. degree in Computer Engineering in 1988 from Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. After he completed his BSc with distinction from METU, he was offered a full scholarship to join the graduate program in Computer Engineering and Information Sciences at Bilkent University in Ankara, where he received his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in 1990 and 1993, respectively.
Currently, he is Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He published over 450 papers in refereed international journals and conferences. He served on the program committee of several international conferences including IEEE ICDE, IEEE ICDM, IEEE IAT, SIAM DM; program chair of IEEE IRI-2008-2009-2010, OSINT-WM-2008-2009-2010, ASONAM-2009-2010, CASON-2009-2010, MS-2007-2009-2010.
He is founding editor-in-chief of the Springer Journal of Social Networks Analysis and Mining, founding editor of Springer Series 'Lecture Notes on Social Networks', Steering Chair of IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Network Analysis and Mining (IEEE/ACM ASONAM); Steering Chair of the International Symposium on Foundations of Open Source Intelligence and Security Informatics (FOSINT-SI); Steering Chair of the International Symposium on Health Informatics, Bioinformatics and Biomedicine (HI-BI-BI) . Associate Editor of IEEE SMC- Part C and he is member of the editorial board of the Journal of Information Assurance and Security, Journal of Data Mining and Bioinformatics, Journal of Data Mining, Modeling and Management; he has been guest editor for a number of special issues and edited a number of conference proceedings. Dr. Alhajj's primary work and research interests are in the areas of Computational biology and bioinformatics, data mining, multiagent systems, schema integration and re-engineering, social networks and XML.
He currently leads a research group of 10 PhD and 8 MSc candidates, most of them are recipients of very prestigious awards including Alberta Innovates Graduate Studies Scholarship, NSERC Vanier Scholarship, NSERC PGS, etc.. He received a distinguished supervisor award from Graduate Studies at University of Calgary. Dr. Alhajj recently received with Dr. Jon Rokne a donation of equipment valued at $5 million from RBC and Teradata for their research on Computational Intelligence and Bioinformatics.
Along with his wife Dima Halabi they have three daughters Aya, Loubaba and Lama Gulay and two sons Suleiman and Mohammed Taha.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Reda thank you for sharing your experiences with our audience.
"....Running a large group of graduate students is not an easy task. Fortunately most of my students are receiving major prestigious awards from the government of Alberta and NSERC. Thank you to Alberta Innovates for their support to many of my students which really helped attract potential stars to come and join my research group at the University of Calgary and participate in the Imagine Cup...."
Can you profile some of your top research successes, what value they provide to research, and the implications/applications to the broader business and ICT industry?
"....We are mainly focusing on health informatics, computational biology, big data management and analysis, social media analysis and many applications like this. We are working on theory and application....In the health informatics field we are focusing on the Canadian healthcare system, a unique system which has two levels of doctors, the general practitioners and the specialists. We are working on a process which will make it easier for the patients and specialist to meet faster.....Another interesting component of our work related to health is helping to identify disease by markers.....We are also working on opinion mining and propagation of influence with emphasis on identifying spam reviews for products....."
Reda describes his top leadership roles and what value they provide to research and the implications/applications to the broader business and ICT industry.
"....I run a large research group of over 15 students, so managing this group is very demanding, but I am happy I have a group of highly qualified and talented students. This requires considerable time and effort....We are shifting into a new era where development requires combining research with skills in development, so students even with a CS degree are expected to be more creative and innovative in their development rather than doing systematic routine work...."
Why should faculty and students get involved in the Imagine Cup? Your university has been so successful with this venue, especially under your tutelage.
"....The Imagine Cup is a unique opportunity for faculty and students to get engaged in real international competition. It is like the Olympic Games of computing and development and by competing in such competitions students learn how to develop their real professional skills. They have to think outside the box in an innovative way. They learn how to turn their ideas into some useful product that can benefit humanity. They learn how to be self-dependent which is very important for the students to build their self-confidence, trusting their own capabilities and potential while doing their research project for their thesis work....."
Reda describes in more detail their experiences at the finals in Canada and Russia? [Editor note: Line noise in interview]
"....Dr. Jon Rokne served as mentor for one team while I was registered as mentor to the other team. We were not aware of the number of submissions but we were told later on that there were over 700 submissions in Canada....We had two teams, one in Innovation and one in Citizenship and we were extremely happy and excited that we had two teams among the three Canadian finalists. When they informed us of the results we realized that our two teams would compete against each other which was another challenge for us, but now our target was to have one of the two teams to represent Canada in the finals....Winning the Canadian competition was the start of the real test if we wanted to be recognized and excel in the international arena. The team worked very hard between the Canadian finals and the world finals to improve the project and to bring it to the level where it could complete well at the world finals. We returned back to Canada with the award and shared the joy and happiness with our fellow Canadians...."
When your students are doing their projects and they are looking for interesting pieces of research, I would imagine that they would be using the ACM Digital Library when they are doing their research for the Imagine Cup. Is that so?
"....Yes, actually my students spend a long time on the computer trying to investigate the research that others have done and download papers related to their research. Everything that is available in the digital libraries of ACM, IEEE, Springer and others my students try to analyze for research outcomes...."
From your special perspective as supervising faculty and mentor, describe the top placing winning projects for the Imagine Cup and what made them special? [Editor note: Line noise in interview]
"....Our two projects ranked among the top three in Canada so we had two novel ideas.....The project called YouSafe guides people to optimizing their spending, time and fuel consumption which will help in saving the environment by less driving....The second project was SANO which is a healthcare-related system. SANO tracks the behavior of a person and his movement trends throughout the day. This is very crucial for people who spend a long time sitting in front of the computer, behind a desk in the office. SANO keeps a record of the health indicators for the person registered in the system and his or her exercise plan....SANO won first place in Canada and received the KFC Innovation award in the world finals in Russia...."
Can you provide some special tips from your areas of renowned expertise?.
"....Go for group work which covers a variety of disciplines....Talk to people and understand their problems in a current and comprehensive way in order to tackle these problems and to find specific, helpful, working and successful solutions for them.....Avoid reinventing the wheel because it is a waste of effort, time and resources to try to do something that has already been done. We have to spend more time finding the holes whether they are big or small, because the bigger the hole the more challenging it will be to close it and the more interesting the solutions that will be developed in order to handle that challenge....Our students should never underestimate their skills and potential....Understand that what actually made big names big is their ability to see what others could not see and to do what others could not do....Everyone involved in the project is expected to have some potential to contribute, and the level of contribution depends on the capabilities of the person and his or her understanding of the task expected, as well as his or her communication skills...."
From your perspective, what are the best online resources to use?
"....Digital libraries are very helpful and save time and effort (ACM, IEEE, Springer and others)....Websites from other universities are also important because there are key developments going on at other universities....Google provides a very wonderful website where I can search for some documents I am looking for....Online newspapers (old newspapers you can download online; this helps with our research)....Magazine articles...."
You talked about analyzing digital libraries, available material in the media (newspapers, magazines), and you talked about stock markets and looking at what's happening in that particular segment. I imagine you look at simulations and so on. Have you looked at some of Gabriel Wainer's work at Carleton on simulations?
"....Yes, but we are trying to tackle this from a different perspective. We try to avoid simulation. We try to develop models that are able to predict and discover knowledge within the data rather than simulate the existing technique. So our work is mostly trying to look at and analyze the history, build a model on the history, try to put this model in practice, and try to see how this practical model will be successful in analyzing and predicting the future....."
What special technical tips can you provide when developing apps for things like the Imagine Cup?
"....Have it as simple as possible....as good as possible, with the minimum cost as possible...."
What are the major challenges your students encounter in their projects and how are they overcome?
"....Deciding on a specific project was a major challenge....Finding the tools appropriate for the project....Too many things to be done so they had to manage their time. They had to complete some things in a minimum amount of time....Diversity of knowledge...."
What special developer techniques do your students use in their innovations?
"....My students distinguish themselves by their diverse knowledge yet they are deep in various aspects. They know a wide number of techniques that they can put together to produce solutions. This capability makes my students unique compared to any other student who focus on a specific aspect and end up thinking locally rather than globally...."
What are your recommended Microsoft technologies and why?
"....Windows 8 is amazing actually....Kinect...."
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See http://www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....We can't imagine a medical doctor who does not have a degree in medicine and practicing, but we see many computing specialists who do not have degrees. I'm not sure how long it will take to have this as a profession, but I think we are moving forward slowly. We are in better shape than in the 80s and 90s....If we succeed in developing computing as a profession with well set boundaries, requirements expectations, responsibilities and ethics then it would be possible to produce more sophisticated outcomes which is needed in this era of rapidly growing technology...."
Reda shares some stories from his extensive speaking, travels and work.
"....Let me start by describing some old stuff and then move to some more recent stuff...."
If you were conducting this interview, what 3 questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?
"....Why did you decide to work in academia?....If you had not chosen to work in academia what other profession would you have chosen?....Given your heavy load how do you divide your time between your family and your research?...."
Reda, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.