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Summer 2013 interns at HP Labs – Austin Benson


Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist


After double majoring in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at UC Berkeley, Austin Benson moved across the San Francisco Bay last year to begin a Ph.D. in the Computational and Mathematical Engineering program at Stanford. Benson grew up in Verona, Wisconsin but is happy to be staying in California. “The weather’s a lot nicer around here,” he jokes. When he’s not working, Benson likes to brew his own beer – mostly IPAs right now – and follow sports.


HP: What’s your project this summer?

I’m in the Systems Research Lab, working with Rob Schreiber. We’re looking at fault-tolerant algorithms for large scale computing. With next-generation supercomputers, faults can occur in one tiny area of the system that can mess up your algorithm and give you a totally wrong result. That could be bad if you are doing something like an earthquake simulation, for example. We’re focusing on faults that cannot be detected by hardware or operating systems, called silent errors. The goal for the summer is to see if we can develop some numerical algorithms that can detect faults by saying ‘this part of the algorithm is doing something wrong so maybe there’s a fault here.’


HP: How are things going?

We’ve already made some good progress at determining what won’t work and what might work. Ideally, we’ll get a paper out of this. But we’ll have to see. We want it to be good work.


HP: Do you think this research will influence your Ph.D. thesis topic?

I don’t yet know exactly what I’ll be doing for my thesis. Currently, my main interest is more general – in parallelizing fast algorithms on supercomputers. But it’s good to know how faults are going to affect these algorithms in next-generation supercomputers and to learn what approaches other people are taking.


HP: What have you enjoyed about working at Labs?

I like that researchers in the Systems Research Lab are working on a variety of topics, like security and analytics, as well as performance. So I’m getting to meet a lot of really interesting people in different fields, but who share the same ultimate focus in their work.


HP: How did you hear about the internship opportunity?

I knew who Rob was, because he’s well known in my field of study and then Rob did a guest lecture for one of my classes at Stanford last fall. I found out that he works here at HP and I sent him an email to see if he had any internship opportunities – and he did!


HP: How did you get interested in your field?

I’ve always liked computers. When I was younger, I did a lot of gaming and then I was interested in engineering as an undergrad. I spent a summer writing software for a group in the nuclear engineering department at Berkeley and I just loved working on that, so I started studying computer science. I really like this field of scientific computing, which is at the intersection of computer science and math. You get to use advanced concepts from both computer science and math, but you’re trying to tackle scientific problems.


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