This month’s professional spotlight features Temesghen Kahsai. Temesghen very recently joined Amazon Web Services (AWS) Security as a software engineer working on automated reasoning tools for cyber-security applications. For the last four years, Temesghen worked as a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. During this time, he was also affiliated as senior system scientist and principal investigator at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Silicon Valley. Read this month’s spotlight to learn more about Temesghen and his work.

Q: Could you briefly explain some of your responsibilities in your current career role.

Since I am currently working to define my new role at AWS, it is easier for me to articulate my previous role at NASA Ames and CMU. There, one of my roles consisted of developing the testing infrastructure for a flight control software of a NASA rover mission. I also led three research projects funded by NASA, NSF and DARPA. Such projects were oriented towards developing innovative techniques for mission critical software systems (e.g. flight control software).

Q: How did you come to decide that this was the right career path for you?

I decided that research was the right path for me because of my genuine interest in exploring various ideas and developing innovative technology that makes our daily life a bit better. I truly enjoy the journey of solving complex problems.  After completion of my MSc studies in computer science, I was very intrigued by the complexity and art of designing and developing software systems. During my studies, I was introduced to a field called ‘formal methods,’ which is at the intersection between mathematics and computer science.  Hence, I decided to pursue a PhD in computer science and continue to foster my interest in formal methods. To this day, I find different applications of formal methods in my daily work.

Q: Is there a philosophy that drives your career?

The philosophy that I try to live by in both my professional and personal life is never fail to try. Though somewhat cliche, I think it is critical, especially as a developer and researcher, to always try different techniques, learn different technologies, and explore different research areas. Often times, I found that trying something completely new to my area of studies/research is beneficial in that it either leads me to finding a new area of interest or gives me creative ways on how to approach existing areas of interest.

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest professional accomplishment thus far is to be in a position to carve out a research agenda that I find interesting to pursue. Over the last four years, I received multiple grants from different governmental agencies to pursue my own research. The first grant I received was from NASA. This was especially rewarding as it was the first grant I received as the primary investigator. It was also rewarding because it equipped me with the skill set necessary to apply for and receive other grants. Though I have not always been successful in receiving grants, through the experience of applying for and managing other grants, I now know how to pursue a research interest, write a proposal to further research in that area, and manage and meet each milestone set forth in grant proposal if such proposal is accepted.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give someone looking to transition into your line of work?

Going back to the philosophy that drives me, my advice for someone interested in transitioning to research in computer science is to be inquisitive and never fail to try. In research and particularly in computer science, it is critical to explore and continue to evolve with technological advancements. It is crucial to try and experiment with different routes, make mistakes and learn from them. Explore new horizons. Having long term goals is paramount and make sure to not get shortsighted by current challenges.

Q: Outside of all of your hard work and efforts toward building your brand, what do you do for fun? Hobbies?

Outside of work, I like to play soccer, floorball, kayak and travel. I am learning to balance my time well so that I make time for these activities.