Cristiano Malossi first came to IBM Laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland as a postdoc and was then promoted to researcher. He has applied his mathematical simulation skills to a variety of projects, specializing in ‘cognitive technologies’ capable of powerful algorithms.
Tell me about some of your work at IBM.
I started on a project for energy-aware computing. The goal here was not to boost operations per second but to make a more efficient use of computational resources for the same result but at a lower power per energy cost. Very soon I got exposed to many other projects, which span deep learning, graph analytics, and high-performance computing. Whatever the assignment is, you must adapt what you know, put together experience from another fields, and at the same time, find a new way to advance the problem. You never get tired of it, every day you learn something new.
Did you start at IBM intending to stay?
At IBM, the postdoc is an opportunity to show that you have the talent to be one of the IBMers. I was hoping to get the position and now that I have it, I aim to stay for a long time; this is an amazing place to develop your ideas and see them realized.
Tell me about your approach to your job search.
What I did, and what anyone can do, is to go on the internet and search for young people who are developing great careers in a field of interest. Everybody’s CV is different and you should look for the ingredients that make a CV stand out from the masses. On top of that, you personalize your CV; you want to show how you would summarize your skills, the way you present your experience. You don’t copy and paste from everybody; just take inspiration from others and then build your story.
What did you focus on in your job applications?
It is very hard to describe your skills, and demonstrate to a company what you have more than other applicants in a few pages. For the research part, I put a short summary of my research area to show why I was working on that area, why it was important, and what I was doing that was new. Personalizing the CV for the specific place you are applying for can make a huge difference.
You won the Gordon Bell Prize and IBM Research Prize for work you performed during your PhD and postdoc. What did you learn by participating in contests?
I was initially feeling intimidated, but in the end you realize that if you put enough effort into the work that you are doing, then you can have a chance to win. You put yourself in a new situation and you really find out that you can do something that you don’t expect you can do.
How is working at a company different from working in academia?
In a word, impact. When you are doing a PhD or a postdoc, generally you work on one or two subjects and you dedicate all the time to them. Here instead of one research subject you have many, and you have the opportunity to work on real problems. In the last few weeks I’ve spoken with clients in energy, automotive, healthcare, chemicals and materials sciences. The potential for world changing impact is incredibly high. In addition, whenever an IBMer have a good idea, he or she can be sure that the company will invest on it and put all resources necessary to make it real.
How should people decide between academia and industry?
If you are looking for the opportunities to work on a specific research field that you want to spend your career on and become one of the top experts in the world in that area, then go for the academia. If you are looking for a new challenge every day and to work on many fields and many problems with strong interaction with top research group and companies, and if you get excited every time that someone speaks about something that you don’t know, then IBM is the right place for you. One piece of advice is to not remain bound by what you think you should do, meaning what you did already. Try to get out of this comfort zone of the field where you have experience, try to expose yourself to more problems, because this will enrich you a lot. When you build a career, through your PhD and postdoc, you have flexibility – more than you think. Keep your eyes open and see opportunities.