About 8 or 9 years ago, I started working on a Ph.D. in computer science. I already had the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in computer science, so this seemed like the next logical step. At the time, I was working as a software developer for the research arm of the Illinois Institute of Technology and they offered me a pretty good deal to get my Ph.D. with the IIT Computer Science department. My field of research was going to be Information Retrieval, which is the name for the science behind full-text search engines like Google, Yahoo, and AOL.
I didn’t start out by doing research. First I had to take some classes. A lot of classes. In the meantime, I helped out a bit around the Information Retrieval lab, managing servers and other non-research stuff. One of the Ph.D. students using the lab was a fellow named Abdur, who was much farther along in his research.
Abdur and I, well, we didn’t exactly get along. He clearly didn’t have a lot of respect for my skills or my intellect. I figure he thought I didn’t have what it takes to do science research.
He was probably right about that, because I eventually drifted out of the Ph.D. program before ever doing any actual research or even completing all my classes. I had lost interest in the subject of Information Retrieval and the idea of doing scientific research. Software development is fun and rewarding. Software research just seemed like a lot of hard work that would bore me to death.
Abdur finished his degree and did a lot of research. According to his online CV he has over 20 patents, 8 publications in refereed journals, and over a hundred contributions to conferences. He’s been on various conference committees and is on the editorial board for a major journal in the field.
I guess if I had finished my Ph.D., I could have done all that too. In every way, Abdur was and no doubt still is a far better computer science researcher than I ever was or will be.
Then again, Abdur Chowdhury has quite recently made search engine history in a way that I would not want to share. He was the AOL Chief Architect for Research who published the search queries of over half a million AOL users, setting off a firestorm of controversy over the release of private search data.