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Summer 2013 interns at HP Labs – Nic McDonald


Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist



Nic McDonald hasn’t come far to intern with HP Labs in Palo Alto this summer. He’s just finished his first year in the electrical engineering Ph.D. program at nearby Stanford University. Before coming to Stanford, McDonald received a BS in computer engineering and an MS in electrical engineering from the University of Utah. A native of that state, he grew up in the town of Sandy, just outside Salt Lake City, and still likes to return there to see family and enjoy the outdoors.


HP: What’s your research project this summer?

I’m working in the Systems Research Lab on large scale photonic networks. We’re trying to make each router work with a high number of photonic inputs and outputs.


HP: Do you see your work here as feeding into your Ph.D. research?

My work at HP and in my Ph.D are both on large scale data center networks. At HP I’m currently working on the interconnect infrastructure. My Ph.D research is currently an investigation of more intelligent network interface architectures. The two areas don’t exactly overlap but knowledge in both areas is important.


HP: Is this your first time at HP Labs?

It’s my first time being here officially, but my MS advisor at the University of Utah, Professor Al Davis, was collaborating with the photonics team at HP Labs while I was doing my masters research. Another student and I helped him work on very large arbiters, which are devices that allocate access to shared resources, and which are being used in the project I’m working on now. So I’ve worked on earlier aspects of this research.


HP: What have you enjoyed about being at HP Labs so far?

I really appreciate the amount of real research that people are doing here. In Utah, I worked for a defense contractor that was officially doing R&D, but there was a lot of paperwork and not a lot of creative thinking.


HP: And how do you like being based in the Bay Area?

It’s really nice that it’s eternal spring, pretty much. I have a two-year-old daughter and she can go outside any time of the year. In Utah there are five months of winter and then five months of 100+ degrees, and you only get two months of good weather.


HP: How did you get interested in electrical engineering?

I had no experience in computers besides playing on them through high school. I took an electronics class in high school, though, where we built some circuits. I didn’t really learn anything much about electronics, but I learned how to put them together and that helped inspire me to want to be an electrical engineer. After learning more in college I found that I really enjoyed electrical engineering and computer science.


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