Sang-Woo Jun, an assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Computer Science, joined the ICS faculty in September 2018.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I did my undergraduate studies at the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the Seoul National University (SNU) in Korea. During that time, I tried working for a few years at an online gaming company, Nexon, and as a research assistant at the Computer Architecture and Embedded Systems Lab at SNU. I eventually gravitated toward research — in particular, systems research.
I joined Professor Arvind’s group at MIT in 2011 and worked on various systems that accelerate the analytics of big data using NAND flash storage. I have also worked on reconfigurable hardware acceleration using field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). As I was constructing new system designs that could not be built with off-the-shelf parts alone, my research involved everything from building printed circuit boards and operating system support for them, all the way to building applications and interactive web frontends that took advantage of the new hardware. It was an exciting line of research. We ended up with a physical system that was actually doing what we promised in the papers we wrote.
What brought you to UCI?
The nice weather and diverse population played a huge part, but one of the biggest influences behind my coming to UCI was the student population. During my interviews, I asked multiple faculty members what it was like working with UCI students. Many of them were excited to tell me that it’s great and that I would find the best students here — which was not the response of faculty at many other places. Indeed, the students I’ve met so far seem extremely clever and hardworking, and I look forward to working with them.
What will you be teaching in upcoming quarters?
I will be creating and teaching “Modern System Design” in the spring quarter. The course will cover more modern advances in computer and system architecture, including modern processors, networks, storage options and accelerators.
Can you talk about your research and its application areas?
My research involves exploring systems that are high performance or high efficiency. My two biggest tools right now are NAND flash storage and reconfigurable hardware acceleration using FPGAs. I have shown that for many applications — including graph analytics and some bioinformatics algorithms — a relatively cheap PC-class machine using these two tools in an intelligent way can outperform a costlier machine with a conventional architecture. It was great fun building a cheap box and generating results that previously required a rack of servers to compute.
What do you like best so far about UCI?
There is an eagerness to get things done among the faculty and students here, and the school is very willing to facilitate their success, which gives me great confidence that I can do good work here. Also, the handful of students I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with have all been brilliant. I’ve been telling myself I need to work hard to help them.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m one of those people who writes code for pleasure. I enjoy writing small brain-teasing pieces of software like 3D renderers or web crawlers. I recently obtained two Z80 microprocessors, and I’m slowly working on constructing a multiprocessor machine from scratch on a breadboard. The processors are 8-bit architectures running at 4 MHz, and the system serves no practical purpose, but it’s fun. More recently, however, my newborn son has been taking up most of my time!
Is there a book you wish everyone would read?
This has nothing to do with my research, but Justice by Michael Sandel was a gentle introduction to different views on how people should act and treat each other. I think understanding the arguments and counter-arguments scholars have given for each of the different views can help streamline discourse and prevent a lot of misunderstanding. On a lighter note, for those of you who haven’t read it already, I also recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.