Doing research is a bit like doing your own start-up company. It’s great: you’re in charge, you have the freedom to explore the ideas you reckon are the most promising, and when things work out well it is rewarding. But it is also tough: again, because you’re in charge. It is your responsibility to figure out which ideas are promising ones to work on, and it’s your problem when they don’t work out. In this talk I’ll argue that good researchers have a lot in common with good entrepreneurs, and that several of the principles from Eric Ries’s “Lean Startup” concept have worthwhile “Lean Researcher” analogues that it might be useful to think about when embarking on a research career. I’ll illustrate this with several examples from my own research, including from the GraphicsFuzz research project, on which I based a start-up company that I then sold to Google. I will conclude with some thoughts on why doing research is actually in many ways both more challenging and more rewarding than doing a start-up.
Alastair Donaldson is a Professor in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London, and a Senior Software Engineer at Google. At Imperial College he teaches first year object-oriented programming and leads the Multicore Programming research group. At Google he leads work on automated graphics driver testing, based on the GraphicsFuzz project he started at Imperial and spun out into the GraphicsFuzz Ltd. company, which Google acquired in 2018. He previously worked at the University of Oxford as a postdoctoral research fellow, and at Codeplay Software as a compiler developer. He did his PhD and undergraduate studies at the University of Glasgow.