Look Who's Talking!
Meet Dr Khaled A. Harras
Assistant Teaching Professor
School of Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar
Interview by CS Undergraduates: Dixie Kee and Young Jae Park
Tell us about your background. Where are you from?
I am an Egyptian/American, born in Buffalo NY, spent one third of my life in Egypt and the remaining two thirds in the US and other countries. I received my B.Sc. degree in Computer Science with a double minor in Electronics and Business Administration from the American University in Cairo (AUC), graduated with highest honors and received the “President’s Cup” award for the highest graduating GPA, as well as the Nobel Laureate “Ahmed H. Zewail” prize for excellence in Sciences and Humanities. Then, I received my M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of California in Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2007. While I was there, I was a member of the Networking and Multimedia Systems Lab working on Delay Tolerant Networks. My dissertation was titled “Protocol and Architectural Challenges in Delay and disruption Tolerant Networks” and covered a range of topics in DTNs.
We saw from your website that you moved from Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh Campus to Carnegie Mellon Qatar Campus in 2008. How did you end up moving from CMU-Pittsburgh to CMU-Q?
My post is mainly for CMU-Q, but I spent the first semester in Pittsburgh working and teaching there.
What are you currently teaching in Carnegie Mellon-Qatar?
I have taught Freshmen Immigration Course in Fall 2011, 2009 and 2008, introduction to Programming in Spring 2008, Introduction to C and Unix in Spring 2010 and 2009, Introduction to Computer Systems in Fall 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, Introduction to Computer and Network Security in Fall 2008 and 2010, and Computer Networks in Spring 2009, 2010 and 2011.
You also do lots of academic service like Internal programming competitions, student treasure hunts, high school programming competitions, CMU-Q’s magazine, Academic Advising board, and so on – what is your underlying motivation on participating in these programs? And how do you fit it all in?
There are two portions that I believe are important aside from the typical academic load, so I will divide my answers into two parts:
Motivation for CMU-Q related programs: When I first joined, we were still in startup mode, and part of our mandate is to provide a very similar experience for our students that is comparable to that in Pittsburgh. The students here, initially, did not fully understand what a US university should look like, and essentially it takes time to boot strap, or jump start this institutional culture that would then continue to spin and evolve on its own. This meant that the few people on the ground, including myself, would need to take on this task if we were serious about providing our students with the best experience possible. This included advising, local events such as programming competitions, student/faculty end of year parties, CS-Treasure hunts…etc. You can see today, how students have fully taken on these responsibilities and we are starting to see this institutional culture along with its evolution. It makes us all proud.
Motivation for outside CMU-Q programs: CMU and Computer Science have always taken pride in leading outreach events that positively impact its local community. This tradition has carried on to our new campus in Qatar with large potential impact in this part of the world. The CS group at CMU-Qatar has been very active in the past years to help spread technology awareness and knowledge in the society; an inevitable requirement for societies aiming to become a knowledge-based economy like Qatar. In fact, a requirement for any nation that wishes to be on the world map in the future.
In countries like Qatar that seek to become a knowledge based economy, technological awareness is an inevitable cornerstone that must be achieved. It is also becoming a reality that advancements in most, if not all, areas of sciences, engineering, and medicine heavily rely on the constant breakthroughs in computer sciences and engineering. Soon, if it hasn't started happening already, illiteracy will be measured by how technologically aware the individual is, not just his/her ability to read and write. Nations are already being ranked by the proliferation of technology within their society and the percentage of people that have Internet access. Acquiring this technological awareness and knowledge has become an absolute necessity.
Our goal in CS4Qatar is to help spread this awareness among the younger generations. We do so by reaching out to the students and exposing them to technological and computer science basics. We hope that through this work and effort by Carnegie Mellon, we plant a seed that continues to grow the students' interest, motivation, and excitement in these crucial areas of knowledge.
We have been running our outreach events like Computer Science for Qatar (CS4Qatar) for high school teachers and students, Botball, High School Programming Competition for several years now. The awareness and interest in these events has grown tremendously since the quality and impact of these events have been strongly resonating with the people. CS4Qatar, for example, has become a famous brand name where we receive up to 400 student applications from 35 schools in Qatar. We choose 120 students to attend our workshops based on many factors, mainly due to space limitations and to ensure a certain quality standard of delivery. We also rely on the fact that students can still apply again next year.
In the end, it is crucial to note that running and executing such events takes the dedication of a very large team of extremely busy people that spend a lot of their time and energy to make this a great success. To give you one example, a major CS4Qatar event can include up to 15 Faculty, Postdocs, and Engineers, 25 CMU Student volunteers, and about 15 CMU staff members that are involved at varying degrees. The full credit and success of these events is a result of the hard work invested by each and every one of them.
What are you currently researching in CMU-Q, and what is your favorite project that you have done / you are doing so far?
The first project is "Mobile Opportunistic Communication", started in August 2010. This project is aimed to explore new ways of connecting mobile users to support socially aware mobile networking. Future mobile services will center around user preferences and social behavior, and there are many challenges involved in this field, such as the characterization of the mobility present in the network, the characterization of mobile user behavior, and so on. This project is aimed to explore this space relying on experimentation and test-bed deployments.
The second project is "Social Pervasive Systems", also started in 2010. In the last decade we have witnessed a huge advancement in smart mobile technologies and social networks. We found that smart mobile devices help in building intelligent context aware systems that react to user’s needs, and social networks like Facebook and Youtube have built a solid, worldwide social connectivity and established social influence. Based on these advancements, we observed the significance of pervasive and social systems and their appeal for cross-pollination. Therefore, we started our new project in the new area Social Pervasive Systems, which inherit the pervasiveness and context awareness with the social mind and influence of social systems.
The third project is "CameraNets", started in August 2009. In this project, we identify and pursue three challenges critical to the effective operation of wireless multimedia sensor networks, which are networks of multimedia sensors interconnected and collaborate work on monitoring an area of interest. First, we propose extensions to the convex optimization formulation that can represent target coverage, to capture additional considerations like the presence of obstacles and vulnerable borders. Second, we propose a multimedia transport protocol that can intelligently transfer the desired multimedia streams while maintaining quality of service and providing in-network synchronization or correlated streams and events. Finally, we consider the issue of collaborative storage and indexing of the sensor data, so that the system can identify interesting periods of operating using lightweight algorithms to reduce the amount of human intervention required.
The fourth project is "Bandwidth Aggregation in Heterogeneous Multi-Homed Devices", started in August 2010. There has been a widespread deployment of varying networking technologies with the increase in end-user data demand, which resulted in the proliferation of multi-homed or multi-interfaced enabled devices. These interfaces are utilized one at a time based on network availability, cost, and user choice. In order to improve the performance and satisfy the demand of users further, we propose a novel Deployable Bandwidth Aggregation System (DBAS). DBAS addresses a set of challenges including automatically estimating the applications characteristics and scheduling the different connections and packets to different interfaces. We focus on the deplorability for this project.
The last project is "Cross Layer Wireless Network Protocols Using Software Defined Radios", started in January 2011. This project aims to develop new cross layer MAC protocols for multi-hop wireless networks employing WARP software defined radio platform. Currently I focus on the design and performance evaluation of a rate adaptation control protocol.
Besides these projects, I have done "Improving Income Generation Using Delay Tolerant Networks" from 2008 to 2009, "Dynamic Path Planning and Traffic Light Coordination for Emergency Vehicle Routing" from 2009 to 2010, "Exploiting Opportunistic Networks in the GCC" from 2010 to 2011, and "Multi-Point Low-Cost Gesture-Based Input Platform" from 2009 to 2010.
We found out that you are interested in computer networks like mobile ad-hoc, wireless, sensor, vehicular networks and a lot of your researches are related to this topic. How did you get interested in computer networks?
Well, it actually started in my undergraduate course in Software Engineering. I had taken on this project that involved my first implementation of a client server based system. I had my own personal LAN setup at home with a point to point co-axial cable between two desktops (You have to go back before wifi and all the current seamless networking setups). The sense of joy I experienced when I was sending messages on one machine and they were popping up at the other as a result of something I had written from scratch was tremendous. This was the initial seed really. As time moved on, the impact of networking and how crucial it is in our lives is obvious to anybody in computing.
Please tell us about the Networking and Systems Lab (NSL) – how did you get involved in it?
The Networking System Lab (NSL) was founded in 2008 when I came to Carnegie Mellon Qatar campus. The NSL conducts research in many areas of Computer Networks and Systems with various collaborators such as Carnegie Mellon, Robotics Institute, SUNY Binghamton, UCSB, E-JUST and AUC. The NSL follows an industry model to a large degree where members include Faculty, Post-Doctoral Researchers, Full-Time Research Engineers and Graduate Students via Internships. The vision for this lab is to become a leading Networking Research Hub in the region. We form a formidable team to conduct researches at Carnegie Mellon Qatar campus in numerous areas of Computer Networks, including Delay and Disruption Tolerant Networks, Multi-homed networking, Social Pervasive Systems, Multi-hop wireless mesh networks, and the interaction between mobile and social networking.
You are involved with TechBridgeWorld. What’s your role as a supporter and volunteer there?
The initial area of research I was working on was DTN (Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networks). One of the main application domains in DTNs was to provide some forms of network connectivity to people in deprived/remote/disconnected regions. This was the angle from which I was interested in doing research towards such causes, and when I joined CMU, it was a pleasure knowing Bernardine Dias and working with her on advising students who would work on similar-related projects. I generally try to be supportive and help with initiatives related to technology for developing regions in any capacity possible (help organize conferences, like when we hosted ICTD in Doha in 2009, or co-advise students, or simply encourage them to pay more attention to such domains).
You are also involved with CS4Qatar for students, teachers, and women – please tell us about that briefly – motivation, how the events are prepared, how the events are carried out, etc. We also would like to know how the CS4Qatar event for women went, the most recent one.
Currently, the most recent one was the general CS4Qatar that took place in February. The one for Women was unique however, and will change the way we will be doing things moving forward the next few years. Essentially, we were trying to connect with a smaller number of schools, but engage larger numbers of students within those schools. We were also trying to reach out to the students’ families since this part of the world has different social norms that we are starting to adapt to. Finally, we were inviting role models and ICT Qatar (the main entity in charge of telecommunication technologies and advancement in Qatar) as a supporter to help deliver the same message we are trying to send to these students.
We had more than 200 students apply (where they had to answer a series of questions, along with a quiz where they must justify their answer). We had 94 female students attend from the top Qatari Independent female schools. The students attended two workshops (Programming in Alice, and Puzzles/Problem Solving). Student families were also invited to witness the environment at CMU and enable us to better connect with the local population. The event was also the first time that marks an inevitable collaboration with ICT Qatar in helping us deliver the message of the importance of computing education and awareness in Qatar.
The focus on females this year is simply because they are half the society and in this culture, in this part of the world, it is even more crucial to reach out to this half. The career prospects within computer sciences would also be a great fit for females in general, and in this culture in specific. The focus on female students is also an international trend to better balance gender involvement in rigorous engineering and sciences programs.
Any advice to the students pursuing Computer Science?
Be patient and enjoy the ride, you are being setup by one of the strongest institutions for a career/life that you might not even know about yet. Inhale and absorb as much as you can during your stay at CMU; make the absolute best out of your presence in such a great place.
How is your life at Qatar?
Favorite things to do at Qatar during free time?
Well, with all these things I am working on, it is rare to have free time. But when I do, I try to do some sports here and there. I had picked up Ultimate Frisbee since I was in California, and I am currently running the country’s ultimate Frisbee pickup group/team (can’t make such statements in many other countries, I guess).
We see that you have traveled to a lot of countries. What made you to travel to so many places and what is your favorite country so far?
I like to travel since I was very young. Also, my parents’ professions both helped me do so. Then my own profession later on also enabled me to do so.
As for my favorite place, I think I had one with the second/third, and maybe fourth new place I visited, and then I started to realize that every place really has its pros and cons; and every place has something unique and beautiful that one can appreciate.
We have also seen from the website that you enjoy reading: do you have any recommended books for students?
I like mainly reading about political history, and science. I mainly recommend that people read something that they would enjoy!
We see that you enjoy swimming, martial arts, squash, ultimate Frisbee and many other sports. How did you end up with playing lots of sports?
Over different periods of my life. They were not all in parallel of course. I did swimming the longest, and always juggled something else on the side for the sake of trying and checking it out. The list you have up here are the ones I put 4 or more years into…
How do you see your future?
I hope to continue having tangible impact that would make me proud. Impact via my teaching helping shape students lives in a positive way, impact via research with projects and papers that would help share some useful insights and ideas, and impact via my academic service which also ultimately benefits potential students or the community within which I am working.
What is your favorite quote?
I don’t like to pick a favorite anything as you’ve seen… Pick a quote that drives you in a positive direction in a way that is self-fulfilling and has a positive impact on yourself and others. Hmmm, maybe that should be a quote…?!! J