Alessandra Sala’s career is grounded in her passion for research.

A native of Amalfi on Italy’s west coast, she completed her doctoral degree in computer science at the University of Salerno and then decided to move to the U.S. to discover her future. During her post-doc at University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), she was mentored by Professor B.Y. Zhao, whom Sala acknowledges as “definitely the most influential” in forming her unyielding bond with research.

Privacy Matters

The California experience was formative for Sala. “Doing research in the U.S. in a competitive university is tough. It demands energy and commitment, and your full mental strength has to be dedicated to your research.”

She was part of a team of young researchers who designed security and privacy solutions for large-scale networks. The results proved both practically and theoretically strong, and garnered much exposure for Sala, who was invited to participate in multiple conferences to discuss her work on privacy techniques.

Pursuing a Dream

She attributes much of her success to the outstanding people she met in her path, including an initial telephone call with Markus Hofmann, who inspired her with Bell Labs’ novel research direction. Hofmann invited her to interview for the role she subsequently accepted in 2012 as a research scientist at Bell Labs in Dublin, Ireland. “During the interview process, I met many great scientists and technical researchers, and I really liked where Bell Labs was going, so I embraced the challenge and joined the team,” recalls Sala.

Since joining Bell Labs she has been privileged to work with inspiring research visionaries. Sala mentions her collaboration with Iraj Saniee and his team as “a memorable experience that has generated promising research results by elegantly aligning Iraj's theoretical knowledge of geometrical distance oracles with her practical experience in scalable system for massive graph computation.” In March 2013, Alessandra was promoted to Technical Manager of the Data Analytics research team in Dublin where she has led their work towards a provocative and energizing vision — to invent data analytics technologies that allow digital services to become personal, familiar and insightful participants in people’s lives.

Big Data, Big Results

At the end of her first year as a technical manager, Sala is enthusiastic about her current task — analyzing user and network generated data to transform digital bits into actionable insights to advance network operations and to create future communication services.

“Close interactions with operators are an effective way to unlock the value of modern data.”

She continues to cultivate her expertise in privacy solutions, which are even more critical in today’s large-scale networks than when she first turned her attention to this field. “Privacy guarantees on technology, data, or services are critical to unlock novel opportunities to explore future services and applications that will improve not only communication systems but most importantly human lives,” explains Sala. Given her previous research in privacy techniques and algorithmic design, she is in a good position to demonstrate to operators how extract information from their data — such as call records — without exposing any sensitive customer data. This technology can increase operator confidence in sharing real-life data for research purposes

The Next Generation

The Dublin team is eagerly investigating how to combine different networks and user generated data, which can provide a clearer picture of end user habits and needs. “With this contextual information, it is possible to understand how people interact, what they need, and how to provide them the right information at any time. This kind of data makes it possible to enable the next generation of mobile services.”

Sala finds particular motivation through partnership with telecom operators. Bell Labs researchers regularly work directly with service providers to address some of their most critical challenges. “It’s really motivating for the team to work on real customer problems and to discover the genuine interest of telecom operators and providers in our research results. It's exceptionally valuable to receive direct feedback from those who are dealing every day with the data that we are studying. These interactions give us the right balance between theory and practice while designing our solutions. I think these close interactions with operators are an effective way to unlock the value of modern data and to develop future technologies.”