CS Department welcomes Xiangyao Yu, Assistant Professor in Database Systems and Computer Architecture

Xianyao YuXiangyao Yu comes to the Department of Computer Sciences at UW-Madison from his position as Visiting Researcher at Google Madison. Previously he was a post-doctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His research interests are in both databases systems and computer architecture, and he says that “enabling faster and more efficient database systems improves everyone’s life in various ways,” including everyday activities such as using an ATM machine or driving a car. Yu says that this year, there will be 40 times more bytes than observable stars in the universe!

Hometown: Qinhuangdao, China. It is a small coastal city near Beijing and the start of the Great Wall. 

Educational/professional background: 
Bachelor from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2012. PhD from MIT in 2017. Postdoctoral associate at MIT till the summer of 2019. Visiting researcher at Google@Madison for 4 months before joining UW.

How did you get into your field of research?
I entered graduate school focusing on computer architecture (the amazing area that studies how to design CPU, GPU, and all the other cool hardware devices) with a special focus on multicore processors. We had a simulator that could model a 1000-core processor. One day we had a chance to talk to Professor Michael Stonebraker and describe our multicore project to him. Mike suggested to us that we try out some core database protocols (e.g., concurrency control) on a simulated 1000-core machine and study how databases scale to hardware in the future. This project turned out to be a wonderful experience for me. I realized the great research opportunity at the boundary of software (i.e., databases) and hardware (i.e., architecture), which shaped my PhD research. 

Could you please describe your area of focus? 
My research interests are at the boundary of database systems and computer architecture. The exponential growth of data is the driving force of the IT industry. In order to meet the performance requirements of future data management, database systems must adopt new processing units, new storage devices, and new network technologies. From both the software and hardware perspectives, I study how emerging hardware should be used in future database systems.

What attracted you to UW-Madison?
The UW-Madison computer sciences department is one of the best places in the world for research in both databases and computer architecture. The department has a long history of excellent research and system building. This is a perfect place for my research. 

What was your first visit to campus like? 
My first visit was for the interview in March. I stayed in Union South and walked for 10 seconds to the Computer Sciences department to interview. I didn’t really have a chance to see the campus. The second visit in May was much more fun. I really enjoyed the good restaurants and “Saturday on the Square”. The city is amazing. 

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
Always challenge conventional system design wisdoms as new opportunities (e.g., new hardware, new requirements, new applications) appear.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Database is a crucial infrastructure behind everyone’s daily life. We benefit from databases when we use ATM machines, shop in grocery stores, book flight tickets, make phone calls, drive a car, among numerous other things. Enabling faster and more efficient database systems improves everyone’s life in various ways.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
The entire digital universe is expected to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020, meaning there are 40 times more bytes than there are stars in the observable universe!

Hobbies/other interests: 
Reading, hiking, table tennis

What course(s) are you teaching this year? Anything in particular you’re looking forward to regarding teaching?
CS 839 “Design the Next-Generation Database”. The course covers recent developments of database systems that are enabled by emerging hardware devices and system-level opportunities. I look forward to interacting and discussing with students taking the class. I hope some exciting research ideas can be generated during the semester.

Where do you see your area of CS in the future – in 5, 10, or 25 years?
A fast-developing area is usually driven by some exponential growth underneath. The explosion of data has been, and will continue to be, pushing the frontier of computer science. Great challenges and opportunities of data management will appear along this journey. The next few decades will be an exciting time for database research.