Published May 15, 2018
While at UB, Victor Bahl (MS ’88, BS ’86) immersed himself in campus life. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering within five years, was president of both the Indian Student Association and Eta Kappa Nu (and a member of the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi), and worked 20 hours a week at Norton Café.
Today, Bahl is just as active: he is director of mobility and networking research in Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research division, a member of Microsoft’s Redmond Lab Leadership Team, and co-founder of a non-profit organization, Computing For All, which he began with his wife, Ritu.
One of less than a dozen of Microsoft’s 115,000 employees who has attained the prestigious level of Distinguished Scientist, Bahl has worked at the multinational technology company since 1997. He says he enjoys the freedom this position offers: “I pursue investigative research on ideas that potentially turn into products five to ten years out. I take risks because I don’t have to worry about [the pressure of] failing. Luckily, I haven’t failed much!”
Indeed he hasn’t. With more than 150 patents, nearly 42,000 citations and countless awards, including the IEEE Koji Kobayashi Computers and Communications Award (IEEE’s top award in computer networking) and ACM (Lifetime Achievement) Outstanding Contribution Award (top award in mobile systems), Bahl is one of the top achievers in the industry.
At Microsoft, he’s leading several fascinating projects. One, called Project Rocket, is part of a multi-national road traffic safety initiative called Vision Zero, which has the unique mission of eliminating traffic fatalities. Rocket performs real-time video analytics on live feeds from thousands of traffic camera to improve dangerous intersections. In the future, Project Rocket will schedule and coordinate stoplights to reduce driving time, and even alert driverless and smart cars in time to avoid accidents. Currently, Rocket is being piloted in Bellevue, Washington, where Bahl lives, as well as in Washington D.C.
Bahl and his wife have a few projects of their own as well. In 2014, she began the afterschool/summer camp program, Computing Kids, which gets K-8 students excited about computing through programming interactive games. Then in 2015, the couple founded Computing For All, a competition that attracts approximately 150 Washington State middle and elementary school students who challenge each other in computational thinking exercises, hackathons and original design projects
“Ritu and I plan to expand the competition to include high school students and adults, and develop it in other states,” says Bahl. “Because the need for this type of skill in the U.S. is great.”
Bahl has also been involved with UB’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) over the years. In addition to being a generous financial donor, he has used his position as the chairperson and founder of SIGMOBILE to get ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) to sponsor academic events organized by the department. He also helped Steve Ko, an associate professor in CSE, bring ACM's high-profile MobiSys International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications and Services to the Buffalo-Niagara region in 2017.
Most recently, Bahl reconnected with his alma mater as part of CSE’s 50 anniversary celebration. Both President Satish Tripathi, who Bahl has known for years, and department chair Chunming Qiao, invited him to serve as a keynote speaker at the event and to participate in a panel discussion entitled “Hot Topics in Industry and Academia.”
About the event, Bahl says: “Chunming did a fabulous job organizing four days of events to commemorate this significant milestone in CSE’s history. He gave my wife, Ritu, and me a tour of the new $50 million CSE building, Davis Hall, and Steve Ko showed me his well-equipped networked systems research lab.”
Bahl also enjoyed meeting Sung-Mo Kang, former president of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and former chancellor of the University of California, Merced, and Bruce Shriver, UB’s second CSE PhD graduate and former president of the IEEE Computer Society. He also mentions a few of the many CSE luminaries he learned about, including Robin Li, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Baidu Inc. and C.L. Max Nikias, president of University of Southern California.
With so many accomplishments under his belt, we asked Bahl for some words of wisdom for current UB engineering and applied sciences students: “Have a vision for your life and be very deliberate about the problems you work on. Educate yourself and question the assumptions—what made sense previously may not make sense now. Find jobs where you are surrounded with smart people who think critically and have a can-do attitude; they will up your game. The world is ready for technology disruptions, and those who think boldly and operate fearlessly will get us to the next level. Develop great instincts by doing more, take initiatives, and above all persevere.”
Bahl is this year’s Distinguished Alumnus Speaker at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ 2018 graduate commencement ceremony, to be held on May 18.