Alex JF

Unexpected turns

  • Category: Personal

Can't believe my last update was more than 3 months ago. As you can expect, a lot has happened since then! Among the biggest change was my move back to Barcelona. Ah but I digress, let me first complete my exposition of life in Stockholm.

So on my last post I told you some things about Stockholm, my accommodations there and what I was working on at KTH. By that time the weather was still relatively hot (5-15ºC). It quickly decreased the next few weeks hitting a minimum of -12ºC in a particularly cold week. I remember this one time when I was coming back from the supermarket in Lappis without my gloves and found warmth in the ice-cream package I was bringing home. Stockholm in Winter is a truly beautiful sight and, except for a spike in public transportation users, there's not a lot of difference from the normal routine of the population. Here are some photos for your enjoyment:

Unfortunately, it only really snowed on that particularly cold week. The rest of the time, temperature was oscillating between -2ºC and 10ºC real feel and when there was any precipitation it came in the form of rain. But we still had some quite nice days such as some of those when a big childhood friend of mine from Portugal came to visit for a week. We visited Skansen, a great outdoors museum/zoo where they set up some traditional Swedish buildings, farms and fauna; Vasa museum, containing the restored Vasa ship and where each floor covers a different part of the ship; Vauxholm, a city one hour away from Stockholm, close to the archipelagos and with a nice castle (which was, unfortunately, closed); Uppsala, one of the other big cities of Stockholm and also has the tallest church building in Scandinavia.

As for university, everything went smoothly. Finished our project on the evaluation of distributed genome alignment tools (which you can check here), did some presentations and paper reviews, 2 exams and that's it! Piece of cake :D In the meantime, I also met one of the founders of OpenRatio, a Stockholm-based startup working in a mobile CMS tool with deployment to Android, iOS and HTML 5 and joined them as a part-time intern. Besides Android coding, I had the chance to work with some enterprise tools such as IBM Worklight and Mule ESB as well as setting up a Jenkins CI installation which was something I wanted to do for a long time now. The entire team is also very nice and I'll terribly miss working alongside them all and our Friday pizza night. I'm still doing some part-time work for OpenRatio, albeit at a distance now, helping wrap up some projects and begin the next iteration of the platform.

Overall, I really enjoyed my stay in Stockholm. A very nice and beautiful calm city that matches my usual somewhat introverted temperament. It was also my first experience living in a student flat and, while it does have its problems (god it was so hard to keep that kitchen clean for more than a day), it's a very rewarding experience and you get to meet a lot of nice people. A bit too expensive though (about 2x the price of stuff in Portugal and Spain). But perhaps the thing I'll miss the most will be most of my EMDC mates. And that brings us to the issue of finding a master thesis.

Now, in EMDC, you're expected to work on your master thesis during the last semester of your 2-year studies. While all 3 universities involved in the program provide their own academic thesis offers, you're not forced to take them. Instead, you can procure your own master thesis projects in other universities or companies, provided that an agreement can be reached between the 2 supervisor parties and yourself. Finding thesis projects in Stockholm is not very hard. KTH organizes an annual "Exjobb" (Thesis project) fair where different companies go and present their project proposals directly to the students. You also have various sites such as KTH Degree Project Portal or And, finally, you can just try to contact companies directly or find some connections to facilitate the process.

Myself, I applied for thesis projects at Tail-f, Spotify, SICS and Ericsson. I got accepted by Tail-f 2 weeks after the application after meeting with the project supervisor and the rest of the team personally (they are doing very interesting stuff related to SDN!). The others, though, took a lot more time (and for Ericsson I still haven't received any feedback, not that it matters now). Initially, my plan was to stay and do my thesis in Stockholm (as that was also the study track assigned to me at the beginning of EMDC). However, an EMDC colleague from the last batch that was (and still is) working at Telefónica Research in Barcelona, recommended me for a master thesis project related to Graph Processing and Big Data. While this went against my initial intentions, I followed through with the application and interviews and ended up being very interested in the project (which had a more direct relation to what I had studied during my master than the SDN project from Tail-f). In the end, I got accepted for the position and, since the rest of the applications in Sweden were taking too damn long, I took the plunge and confirmed my interest before they chose another candidate. Looking back, I still believe this was the right decision to make.

I cannot talk about the experience my colleagues went through but I can tell you where they are now doing their master theses. One went back to Portugal and is working at Inesc-ID, a research-oriented group started by IST. 6 stayed in Stockholm with 3 working at SICS, 1 at Ericsson, 1 at Spotify and the other one somewhere else. 2 went to Zurich, 1 working at ETH-Zurich and the other one to a startup. 3 went to France, 2 to work at Inria and 1 to work at Technicolor.

And thus, on the 7th of January, I returned to the city of Barcelona. Me and a good friend of mine who is doing her thesis at Yahoo Research here in Barcelona. I came first to scout for flats. Since both Telefónica and Yahoo Research are in the Saint Martí area, that's where I concentrated my search. The objective was a flat with a minimum of 2 bedrooms, fully furnished and with a rental period of 7 months. It was not an easy task as most places either had no furniture (although advertising as such) or did not allow stays of less than a year. However, on my second day of visits I managed to find a very nice place on a 15th floor with 2 bedrooms and an office, fully furnished and recently renovated. Plus, it has some greats views over the city. I did have some problems initially as the landlady wanted to activate rental insurance and, for that, you need a proof of income and having stayed in Barcelona for more than a year (at least for this particular insurance company). Since I didn't meet the criteria I had to pay 3 months in advance. But, in the end, all turned out well:

I've been having a blast at Telefónica, working in a project called It has 2 components: Okapi, a library of machine learning algorithms built on top of Giraph and Realtime Giraph, a modification of Giraph to support a more streaming like input (as opposed to simple batch from-the-beginning processing like Hadoop). My thesis in particular will study the effects of asynchronism on a variety of graph processing algorithms and graph types. Although I probably won't have a lot of time to post the details of the thesis as I work on it, I'll be sure to give you an update once I finish it!

And this is, in a nutshell, what I've been up to these last months! See you on my next update which, hopefully, won't be as late as this one!

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