Advancing Life & Work

My career transition from product to research at HPE: best of both worlds


Time and again, software researchers in the computer networking field move to industry either after graduation or after working in various industrial and R&D laboratories. I had a unique experience during my four years at HPE, where, after working in production for a few years, I moved to a more research-intensive position at Hewlett Packard Labs.  I would like to describe the motivation for this transition, the various aspects of working in a product team vs a research team, and how HPE enables career growth within the company. My hope is that this will be helpful to Ph.D. students and young researchers who are planning their career path. 

 On pursuing a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Arizona State University (ASU), the natural tendency would be to pursue a career in research. While I was always fond of research, there was an urge in me to understand how products are developed and to familiarize myself with the product development life cycle. That led me to pursue development positions and I was fortunate to become part of HPE Aruba’s Networking Group. After three years in product development with hands-on experience with product, unique opportunities provided by the Technical Career Path led to my transition to research to pursue my dream and become part of Hewlett Packard Labs. 

At Aruba networking group, we work in a fast-paced product development environment where the focus is on developing production-ready products with a lot of emphasis on innovation and differentiation. With two- or three-week sprints in a product lifecycle, one gets to experience various parts of product management.


Some of the interesting projects during my time at HPE Aruba were leading the project on OpenDayLight (ODL) NIC where we worked on innovating on Software-Defined Networking such as Network Intent Composition, Intent State Machine, and Distributed Mapping Service. This project introduced me to working with researchers then at Hewlett Packard Labs, and led the effort to transfer the technology of Policy Graph Abstraction to ODL project NICPersonally, I gained a lot of outlook on open source projects and received merits by presenting demos at ONS and ODL Workshops. HPE provides such opportunities to show oneself and its very rewarding to represent HPE at open-source forums 

Doing research has always been my dream, and the opportunity to join Labs was a dream come true. Being at Labs for almost a year has given me a whole new experience of being a part of the HPE family and a very rewarding one. With the experience of product developmentgaining system building skills, and direct exposure to customer requirements, facilitates my current research efforts, especially when working on new areas such as Edge as a Service (EaaS). 

The key focus, when working on research, is working on novel technologies that will dramatically improve tomorrow’s products and solutions, one such example, is our work on User-Defined Analytical Application for Networks devices (UDAAN) inspired by my product development work on HPE Aruba’s product Network Analytical Engine (NAE) which was the differentiator to make the Aruba’s Network Switch Operating System (Aruba OS-CXbecome an Industry leader. NAE caterto specific use-cases of target customers in Campus-Edge deploymentsand UDAAN explores the system-level and application-level innovation of embedded network switch analytics, leveraging the power of cloud network (I.e. analytics model at the edge based on training in the cloud), that is the differentiator to various use-cases such IoT, Campus Networks, etc.. The paper on UDAAN got published at the NetAI Workshop at ACM SigComm, one of the top conferences in Networking Communications research domain 


Overall, it has been extremely gratifying to be a part of HPE both in the product and research teams. Each career path has their learning curves and rewards, and it's amazing to have an employer that would assist in smooth transition between the career paths, enabling the employees to achieve their professional growth and still be able to contribute to the company’s growth. On a concluding note, I would encourage young researchers targeting industry research, to pursue opportunities at companies that allow internal career mobility as it allows fresh learning experiences while leveraging the knowledge gained in past roles. 

To quote my mentor, “Be like a river while charting course of your career, not stagnant like a pond."


For more on Mercian's work, watch this video on UDAAN: Embedding user-defined analytics applications in network devices

Anu Mercian
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

About the Author


Anu Mercian is a research scientist at Hewlett Packard Labs, who previously spent three years with HPE Aruba. She received her Ph.D. from ASU and her bachelor’s from College of Engineering, Trivandrum, India. Her research interests include container orchestration, SDN, and machine learning.