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FIRST PERSON: The computer scientist who helped design the world’s fastest supercomputer

Dr Bo Eyole is a Principal Research Engineer at Arm. The former Trinity Junior Research Fellow spoke to Professor Frank Stajano about his journey from Cameroon to Liverpool, Trinity and a high-tech career in Cambridge. 

 

I have always had some attraction to knowing how things work. I remember taking things apart as a child; from simple things like a radio to more adventurous things like remote-controlled cars. I found it more enjoyable to be basically in the machine.

I had almost zero experience with computers when I was growing up. Around the age of 16 I created a simple program on a calculator. I remember that incredible feeling … something that took minutes or hours to work out with a piece of paper took just a fraction of a second on a computer.

I was born in Cameroon and I came to England when I was 17. I did my BEng at the University of Liverpool in Electrical Engineering and Electronics. I spent more time in those early years studying the mathematical basis of various things – Physics, Chemistry and Biology. I didn’t write any code then but when I started writing code that mathematical foundation was very instrumental.

I dreamt about becoming a scientist and solving some urgent problems, for example in healthcare. Back then I was thinking about becoming a medical doctor, perhaps going into medical research. I realized early on the power of information processing – if we can gather that information and build some predictive models, then we could improve society by being able to spot problems before they occur or understand trends and be able to tackle them.

If I had seen the incredible achievements that had already happened in computing, or the enormity of the task ahead, I probably would have been daunted. I was fearless enough to just dive right in and start studying engineering.

Where could I go to learn how to use those tools properly … to help the next big challenge, to make society better? I didn’t know a lot about Cambridge and chose Trinity because I thought it would be a great place to study, while also hoping to get a scholarship. I had a very positive experience at Trinity. The atmosphere was very welcoming and I made some great friends. With that academic foundation I had the feeling anything is possible.

Being able to study at Cambridge, especially at Trinity College, helped me open doors that I never thought were possible. Future applicants should not be afraid of applying. It really is down to academic ability. There are no hidden agendas. Students shouldn’t be afraid to put their best foot forward because they will be judged on merit – not the colour of their skin or any other factor.

Diversity should be cherished. The process of categorization is something people do without taking the time to understand others at a deeper level. It is enough to be yourself and do the best you can. Don’t try to change how you think or sound to conform to any preconceived notions about how you should think or act.

When I finished my post-doc research I joined Arm. I have been happy here. I have had some very positive experiences, met some bright people and had the opportunity to innovate at the leading edge of the industry.

The ethos at Arm is that great minds don’t think alike. One of the company’s core values is to be your brilliant self. It is important, especially in research, to ensure that we bring people with different backgrounds and opinions together to solve problems and challenge the traditional way of doing things. This is how we will tackle some of the great challenges in the future.

Computing lacks sufficient diversity, which is problematic. Increasing diversity is one challenge but many people are working hard to incorporate inclusivity, which is an equally difficult challenge. Inclusivity is the next step in which you work towards ensuring all these different people feel like they are part of the organization and their voices are heard equally.

I say I design processors for a living. But obviously no-one solves the entire challenge of designing a fast processor, it’s a collaborative effort across both teams and ecosystems. Within my role, I tend to take what has already been designed, try to understand its limitations, and research ways of improving its performance.

What’s really fun and enjoyable about this is that the opportunities for improvement are endless. There is a tremendous amount of reuse and repurpose. You don’t solve problems in their entirety – you try to do your bit well and if your solution is modular enough, someone else can come along, improve it, transform it and use it to great effect. Sometimes in ways you didn’t even think of.

Computer science is incredibly enjoyable but it is also incredibly taxing. For me the excitement and fun outweighs the complexity. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what is possible with intelligent machines. Just go for it if you are thinking about studying computer science because we have the potential to transform society and build a more sustainable future through technology.

At Arm I am working in a team that is designing some of the most advanced processors in the world. We are able to push performance but do so in a very efficient way.  One architecture I contributed to now lies at the heart of the fastest supercomputer in the world — the Fugaku system at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science in Japan.

I am incredibly proud of that achievement from someone who came from an underprivileged background to be able to design something that will go on to solve some of the world’s problems. I would encourage other people not to be afraid but keep trying and to think that anything is possible.

I am very grateful to Trinity College which believed in me all those years ago and gave me an incredible opportunity. Sir Andy Hopper played a pivotal role in my education as my Supervisor and mentor. The Fellowship at Trinity gave me a heightened sense of purpose and firm belief (as well as confidence) that even though some challenges might look difficult, nothing is impossible.

Instilling that type of confidence really makes a big difference to one’s approach to problem-solving: for example, I have recently been awarded the title  “Inventor of the Year” at Arm for my contributions to the company’s intellectual property.

 

Alumnus Dr Bo Eyole was a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity, 2007-2011, after completing his PhD at Cambridge in 2007.

This First Person article is derived from Dr Eyole in conversation with Professor Stajano, a new video created by Professor Stajano for Frank Stajano Explains, which features Cambridge Computer Scientists (undergraduates, graduates, post-docs, professors and industry professionals). 

Photos: Hayley Eyole

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