Mark Abel has recently been recognized as the inaugural Distinguished Computer Science Affiliate. This is an honorary title that was created to recognize individuals who make significant contributions to the Department of Computer Science. Mark is a very valuable partner for our department, and we hope that this title not only recognizes his ongoing efforts on behalf of our department, but also creates more opportunities for future engagement. The UCSB Department of Computer Science is thankful for his continued support and contributions.
Recently, we asked Mark some questions to learn more about him. The following were his responses:
What has your role been at UCSB? / What is the focus of your work?
I am the Associate Director of the Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE). I help Director John Bowers, the faculty leaders and faculty of IEE create a more energy efficient future while driving the next generation of IEE research. We help make the world more energy efficient! Together we developed "IEE 2.0" the forward looking strategy for IEE built around three research themes: Energy Efficient Computing and Communications (https://iee.ucsb.edu/research-programs/computingcommunications ), Smart Societal Infrastructure (https://iee.ucsb.edu/research-programs/smartsocietalinfrastructure ) and the Food-Energy-Water Nexus (https://iee.ucsb.edu/research-programs/food-energy-water ). We have put a number of new programs and efforts in place to help make IEE 2.0 a reality including (of course) opening IEE's new home in Henley Hall and the labs in Henley Hall, kicking off a new research seed program starting in 2019 (https://iee.ucsb.edu/research-programs/programs/iee-research-seed-funding-program ), creating a revised industry partnership program (https://iee.ucsb.edu/research-programs/programs/industry-partner-program ), driving a new approach to IEE's yearly Emerging Technologies Review (https://iee.ucsb.edu/news-events/events/emerging-technologies-review), revising IEE's faculty leadership around our new research themes, enrolling a number of new outstanding junior faculty in IEE, and expanding the number of external grant applications running through IEE. In addition to working on these initiatives, I spend a portion of my time working with our key faculty and industry partners to grow new industry partnerships, e.g., the new Facebook partnership https://engineering.ucsb.edu/news/facebook-donates-15-million-support-data-center-efficiency-research ).
What did you do before working at UCSB?
I retired from Intel in 2018 after 27 years there. Over my time at Intel, I mostly ran research labs and occasionally worked in business units as a senior technologist and/or CTO. I often started new research areas at Intel. For example, in the early 1990’s I was the founding director of the first networking and communications research lab at Intel. Later I was the founding director for Intel's "Digital Home" lab exploring the intersection of the computing industry and the consumer electronics industry as the world transitioned from analog to digital (which only happens once in a lifetime and only once in the history of these industries). I retired as a Senior Director in Intel's research arm called Intel Labs and my final role was running Intel's worldwide network of academic research labs. Before Intel, I held research and leadership positions at Xerox PARC, Bell Labs, Siemens and US West. I did a number of interesting special assignments during my career including spending four years running an Intel academic lab in sensing and sense-making at the University of Washington in Seattle, guiding an Intel acquisition in Israel while living temporarily in Jerusalem, and helping Siemens redesign systems for the US while living in Munich, Germany. I loved my time in industry. I think I am most proud of my early days in Intel's first labs organization where my team and I worked with Microsoft to redesign the Intel PC to be a great Internet and comms platform. Our inventions and software co-developed with Microsoft shipped in more than a billion PCs and touched every Internet packet sent to or from a PC for more than a decade. Our teams won numerous awards for these innovations including multiple Intel Achievement Awards which is Intel's highest award. These innovations dramatically helped Intel's business in the 1990s and are arguably one of the linchpins of the growth of the Personal Computer industry in the decade of the 1990s.
What were some of the reasons why you wanted to work at UCSB?
As I was considering retiring from Intel in Oregon, I established a set of goals for my second career: 1. work at a world class university with world class people in a research-oriented role, 2. take advantage of the skills I had developed in industry, 3. help make the world better, and 4. continue to learn and grow. My wife and I also wanted to stay on the west coast and we had some personal preferences regarding climate, the community, etc. After talking with Professor John Bowers and UCSB's Vice Chancellor of Research Joe Incandela about joining UCSB and helping out with the Institute for Energy Efficiency, I was thrilled to accept their kind offer to come to USCB and IEE. I am so lucky to have found this incredible place and this incredible Institute working for John for my second career. I am deeply grateful.
How has COVID-19 affected your life?
This has been a very strange time as everyone is well aware. I took this role to work with professors and their top grad students and this is of course much more challenging in the days of Covid-19. We are very excited to be opening the newest building on campus, Henley Hall, as IEE's new home, including 18 new labs, but Covid is severely restricting many aspects of the building's opening phase. On a personal level, one of our sons and his fiancee contracted Covid as the two of them relocated to their new home far away after he finished his PhD. While they are mostly recovered, it was a scary time for our family.
What awards or honors have you received over the years and what does this specific recognition mean to you?
My teams and I won or shared seven Intel Achievement Awards during my Intel career. This is Intel's highest award given once per year to about 0.3% of the people at Intel per year so it is unusual to win even one but our teams were lucky enough to be working on important new areas multiple times. I started and managed an Intel team in Argentina that was Intel's first advanced development team in that country and they did some great work that twice garnered Argentina's highest technical award, called the Sadosky Award. On a personal level, I was incredibly honored to be named the 2011 distinguished Computer Science alumni at the University of Michigan, called the "Engineering Alumni Merit Award" in Computer Science.
I am now honored and thrilled to be named as a UCSB Distinguished Computer Science Affiliate. I already work with CS faculty like Professors Rich Wolski, Chandra Krintz, Tim Sherwood, William Wang, Xifeng Yan, Yu-Xiang Wang and others. I'm looking forward to deepening my efforts with them and their students as well as working more with the other great CS faculty and their students. My thanks to CS Department Chair Tevfik Bultan and Professor Rich Wolski who nominated me.
Tell us something interesting about yourself unrelated to work and research.
Here are two quite different answers.
1. I jokingly call myself an "accidental engineer". I started my career as an undergrad at the University of Michigan as a Physics major. In my sophomore year, during an argument with a Physics professor in one of the Physics buildings about what was important in pursuing science, he said "if you really think like that, you ought to walk across the courtyard to those engineering buildings and go be an engineer!" I put my physics book down on his desk, and said "I'm going to do exactly that" and I did. It was for me personally one of the great and lucky decisions of my life.
2. As part of my "retirement contract" with my wife, I only work part-time at UCSB. This allows my wife and I to take long walks and runs and cycle rides on or near the beach each day, often with our dog. I should mention that I was an avid trail runner for most of my adult life in Oregon but my knees are too creaky for trail running any more and running on the hard beach sand at low tide is about as wild and crazy as my slow jogs get these days.