Q&A with Giovanni Cherubini, IBM storage scientist

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Scientist at the IBM Research – Zurich Lab celebrates 25 years of service

Giovanni Cherubini celebrates his 25th anniversary of service this month. He is a member of the Storage Technologies department, has been an IBM Master Inventor since 2009 and an IEEE Fellow since 2006. Hailing originally from Padua, Italy, Giovanni now has dual Italian and Swiss citizenship. He has over 80 publications in conference proceedings and peer-reviewed journals, in addition to 40 granted patents and some 20 pending patent applications.

Q. Giovanni, congratulations on your 25th service anniversary. What brought you to the Zurich Lab?

Oh, thank you. I was recruited by Gottfried Ungerboeck, whom I met while I was doing my PhD at UC San Diego. I liked the kind of work Gottfried was doing, so I jumped at the chance.

Q. Were you keen to return to Europe after your PhD?

Well, my interview in Zurich was in July, and I arrived the following January. Coming from San Diego, that meant a temperature drop of about 30 degrees, which was quite a shock. But overall, yes, I was happy to return to Europe to be closer to my family.

Q. You joined the Zurich Lab in 1987. Could you describe a couple of ways in which the Lab has changed since then?

At the time, my group was at an off-site location, and it was a little challenging for newcomers to integrate and feel like part of the Lab. Fortunately, our group of young (at the time!) researchers had just enough critical mass to be able to create our own atmosphere of intellectual stimulation. So that helped not to feel too cut off from the main Lab.

Several years later, the entire department moved to another off-site location, and that was a much bigger group, which meant more interaction.

Then in 2000, we finally moved to the main Lab, which I really appreciated.

Q. Your location wasn’t the only thing that changed. How has your field of research changed over the years?

When I started, my group was working on communications systems. However, this wasn’t IBM’s core business and the support was declining. We brought that work to completion by transferring many of our ideas into industry standards. One of them also became an Accomplishment in 2002.

Back in the 90s, IBM was going through drastic changes, and we as RSMs also had to change. We were increasingly being asked to contribute to the needs and success of the company.

After the communications systems work was wrapped up, I joined the Millipede probe storage project. That was very exciting because it opened up a completely new landscape and gave me the opportunity to learn new skills. Today, I continue to work on control-system-related issues, now within the Tape Storage group.

Q. Was that quite a challenge?

I think it was a valuable experience to realize that we as researchers have to be open to change and willing to adapt our skills, to expand our interests.

Of course those original data communications skills still serve me well even today, although my main focus has changed considerably. It was an interesting evolution to go through, and I learned that essentially everybody has to be able to reinvent and innovate himself and see the opportunities that change can offer.

Q. What do you enjoy most about the working environment at the Zurich Lab?

It’s definitely the stimulating intellectual environment and the flexibility we enjoy. The opportunities to try new things. Of course it’s important to consider the company’s goals and technical priorities. This creates a kind of playground where scientists can find new ways to approach interesting issues and find solutions to significant problems. I also find it gratifying to contribute to successful IBM products.

Q. You’ve worked with the same core group of colleagues throughout your career at the Zurich Lab. What effect does this have on your work?

It’s so important that there’s an element of trust within a group of colleagues, an atmosphere where people can be open and exchange ideas. We’ve achieved a group culture that’s conducive to new ideas and achieving results that are important to the company as well as for our reputation, both as a research lab and as individuals.

Q. Now just a few rapid-fire questions: Beach or mountains?


Q. Beer or wine?


Q. PC or Mac?


Q. Paris or New York?

New York.

Q. Summer or winter?


Q. Federer or Nadal?


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