Andrea Galloni found the best of two worlds
He is one of the first industrial doctorate candidates of the EIT Digital Doctoral School. Andrea Galloni, is researching synthetic data generation at Ericsson Hungary under the academic supervision of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE). "I found the best of two worlds: the education & research and the industry. You really get to understand how markets work, especially on the business to business side."
Ever since he was a little boy, Galloni knew he wanted to be a scientist. "When my mother used to read me stories, I used to ask her to stop and read about science instead." No wonder he chose a scientific secondary school and a bachelor's in computer science in Perugia, Italy. For his master's degree, he was specifically attracted by the entrepreneurial environment of the EIT Digital Master School. He was accepted for the Software and Service Architecture programme in both Trento at the UNITN and in Budapest at ELTE. Doing this, he realised he was more interested in data science than in distributed systems and continued his studies at the EIT Digital Doctoral School. "I want to become more specialised," he explains.
How do the attractions of EIT Digital's entrepreneurial ethos chime with your choice of doing the industrial doctorate programme at the EIT Digital Doctoral School?
"It is possible that I will want be an entrepreneur in the future. But at this moment, I feel more a scientist than an entrepreneur. I want to gain more knowledge and experience in the business environment first. But I also want to keep up my academic life. I chose specifically to do the EIT Digital industrial doctorate programme because of the importance of networking. The huge network of EIT Digital gives you the chance to experience a lot. You have many occasions to discuss, to compare yourself with other technical people and to be close to the industrial world. Best of all, is that you are connected with both spheres, education & research and industry. That really helps you to understand how the market works, especially on the business to business side.
What's in it for you personally?
"I believe in open science and open source. So, I really love to do research on a real industrial problem while keeping an open, academic research attitude. Research should not be private. Now, I am being introduced to industrial and organisational processes. For the industrial doctorate, the company gives you a problem to research, you can't deviate too much from it. The latest frontier of science, coupled with industry needs, makes good ground for innovation. If you just do research, you are looking for something that does not exist. If you find a way to apply it in business, then you have real innovation."
In your case, Ericsson Hungary needed a test traffic generator for telecommunications networks to test data analytics applications. What does that mean?
"My thesis is about synthetic data generation. Sometimes the industry does not or cannot provide information due to privacy concerns. At Ericsson Hungary, we want to develop a framework that can analyse any given database, inferring the main characteristics and patterns of the data and, based on these features, generate a synthetic dataset that has similar characteristics to the original database. The usual obstacle in the development of - not only data mining - algorithms for industrial applications is the lack of available data in sufficient quality and quantity, for legal or technical reasons. A good example is when only a small portion of the data can be given to developers in some anonymous form. Filtering and anonymisation of the data requires careful preparation and planning. Only in a few cases, and only after substantial effort, does it generally throw up usable results."
That sounds very technical. How does that help business?
"Let me give you an example. I did an internship at Hungarian Telecom and there was a big issue about privacy. Our goal was to get information on human mobility using the mobile phone logs. I had to work with their data, but they are restricted by European privacy laws, so I could not get the information I needed. We had no access to the data. If we had the test traffic generator, we could have generated a new dataset by anonymising the existing data and producing similar data like just them and worked with that. In this way, you have a reliable dataset and you avoid privacy issues, so you can continue developing new services or establish partnerships with other companies while keeping your real data confidential."
You have been in the industrial doctorate at Ericsson for six months now. Has anything changed in your thesis proposal since you started?
"Not that much has changed yet. In the first semester, we just prepared the ground for the years ahead. We assessed our specific industrial problem. I studied Ericsson's infrastructure and data model and tried to find the best existing approach to solve the problem. It is progressing well!"
Within the EIT Digital Master School and now Doctoral School you travel and work with lots of people. How do feel about the European approach of EIT Digital's education programmes?
"First, I do feel more European than maybe Italian. I do not believe in a nation of states. I believe in something bigger. Italy is nothing without the European Union and the EU is nothing without its member states. We need an economic, financial and social union, otherwise there is no future for us. That is why I believe in Europe. I hope to be of use in doing research that can help companies build better services to make life easier for citizens.
During the course of the programme, my English has improved a lot. I've met a lot of international people and had to pitch business proposals and follow classes in English. I consider my international friends as my language mentors. Working in multicultural teams is not always super easy. But you learn to be elastic in your thinking. First you must understand, analyse and then come up with solutions that fit everybody. Sometimes you just must tolerate differences. I became a leader in a group and so I developed leadership skills. It is not easy. Trust is important in a team, but trust is not for free. I've acquired many skills during the "EIT experience" and they are very valuable."
What is your dream for the future?
"My dream is to be satisfied with myself. The EIT Digital Master School and Doctoral School have given me the basis to be independent. I can either work for or without other organisations; I can understand their problems and develop solutions. I can build my own company to solve business to business problems related to data issues and privacy. My goal is to use state of the art research to solve industrial problems in a scientific way. The Doctoral School has given me all of this."