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This year, Muhammad Gulzar, a third year Ph.D. student in the Computer Science Department, has been announced as one of 33 scholars across North America, Europe, and the Middle East to become a Google Ph.D. fellow. The Google Ph.D. fellowship was created in 2009 in an effort to “recognize and support outstanding graduate students doing exceptional research in computer science and related disciplines”. The fellowship will cover Gulzar’s tuition, as well as provide him with a stipend for living expenses and travel purposes.

“I’m really happy,” Gulzar said when asked about his feelings on receiving the fellowship. “It really helps us to focus and expand upon our current research and gives us the visibility in the broader computer science community, which is extremely beneficial for expanding the opportunities I have for my Ph.D research,” he added.

Gulzar’s research interests span software engineering, distributed systems, and data science. More specifically, he aims to merge ideas from software engineering and database systems to enable debugging in big data systems, without compromising the throughput or the performance of the systems. He focuses on “establishing a new domain of big data debugging” by building tools which enable developers to more easily debug big data systems and big data analytics applications.

Initially, Gulzar’s research focused on how data scientists develop programs. After starting his research, he found that while the tools data scientists were using had been available for years, there was little work being done on helping data scientists debug and test their applications easily. Since then, Gulzar has dedicated his research towards bridging this gap. “I would say the gist of my Ph.D. thesis is just to make life easier for developers of big data systems – in particular, when they debug and test their programs,” he said. “When you move from normal programs to big data analytics applications, things get really expensive, since you’re running these programs on thousands of machines and terabytes of data. Obviously this takes a really long time, so we’re trying to develop tools that will save the time and the cost of finding bugs in programs, on the big data scale.”

Since starting his research, Gulzar has succeeded in developing helpful debugging tools which allow developers an easier, more automated process for interactive debugging. The interactive debugger, BigDebug, that he developed for Apache Spark is now publicly available. His current and future work focuses mostly on automated debugging and testing of big data analytics applications, so that users are able to efficiently test programs on their local machines, rather than on the huge clusters containing thousands of machines. His research has enormous implications in helping developers create more reliable, bug-free big data analytics applications, and will undoubtedly make a notable impact in this new era of data science and big data analytics.

Gulzar received his B.S. in computer science at Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan, where he originally started out as a mathematics major. His interests began to shift after taking a fundamental programming course, where he became intrigued by the capabilities of computer science and how nearly any idea could be implemented into something tangible, whereas in mathematics, ideas are left in a more abstract form. After taking an operating systems course, Gulzar realized that the realm of computer science spanned over much more than just programming, and became captivated by the countless real-life applications of the field. From there, he decided to switch his focus to computer science, and in 2014 went on to pursue his Ph.D. in computer science at UCLA. He is advised by professor Miryung Kim, who specializes in software engineering. His research work is also done in collaboration with Professors Tyson Condie and Todd Millstein.

Kim thoroughly expressed her excitement about Gulzar’s recent achievement, and is certain that Gulzar’s contributions will help in revolutionizing big data debugging in the computer science community. “Gulzar has the vision, dedication, and persistence to be a successful computer scientist – he’s a strong builder who directly tackles the challenge of designing a scalable infrastructure and usable tools,” Kim said. “He’s been very productive in producing top publications in the early stage of his graduate career, and I have no doubt he will do great research in the intersection of software engineering and systems, and make strong contributions in bringing the research prototypes from his thesis work to the real world industry.”

While Gulzar is still undecided about whether he wants to pursue a job in industry or academia after his Ph.D., he is currently leaning towards pursuing a career in academia, due to his natural curiosity and his passion for developing new ideas within his field of research.

In addition to Gulzar’s recent achievement, the Computer Science Department has also had other collaborations with Google, including Professor Ameet Talwalkar and Professor George Varghese, recipients of the Google Faculty Research Award for 2015 and 2016 respectively.