Dr. Katherine Guo, Nokia’s 2019 Ada Lovelace Honoree
Nearly two centuries ago, a young “Countess of Lovelace” pursued an interest and passion for mathematics. She would be the first to recognize that Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine could do more than simply calculate and would go on to write the first computer algorithm for the device.
Today on Ada Lovelace day, we stop to recognize her as one of the first ever computer programmers. But perhaps more importantly, we pause to appreciate the unique role she played as one of the first women to pursue her passion for mathematics and computing science.
In recognition and celebration of Ada Lovelace, Nokia is proud to shine a light on one pioneering woman working today within our Nokia research community who captures the spirit and serves as a modern-day version of Ada.
Dr. Katherine Guo has built her education and career based on a passion for math and science. With bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Texas at Austin and a Computer Science Ph.D. from Cornell with minor in Applied Mathematics, Dr. Guo joined the Bell Labs team after her graduation in 1998.
For the past 20 years, Katherine has worked in several research areas including major innovations in the area of network-based multi-media streaming technology. With over 40 patents and numerous inventor awards, including the 2013 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award, as well as an extensive list of published papers and articles in various scientific peer-reviewed and industry journals, Dr. Guo continues to add to the knowledge and research in her field.
The young Katherine Guo grew up with her family in Beijing, China, nurtured by parents who were both scientists themselves, Katherine found herself continually excelling in her studies.
Growing up under communism where one’s intellectual capabilities were not necessarily rewarded with financial success, Katherine recalls the value of learning outside of the classroom. “Like most Chinese at the time we were growing up, we had very limited means. My father would often tinker and repair televisions as a hobby and I would be fascinated in seeing into the inner workings of these devices. I soon found myself taking apart broken alarm clocks and radios to learn about what made them work,” comments Guo.
“I think my work today where I am engaged in the underlying foundations of connecting the billions of new devices on our wireless networks as part of the IoT (Internet of Things) carries on from my early interest in understanding how complex systems and processes work.”
An interesting influence of her Chinese upbringing was the very strong “everyone is equal” philosophical approach. “Everyone was basically treated the same at school, so gender didn’t really play a role in defining who or what I could become,” comments Guo. “I was never really raised to believe my gender limited my potential or possibilities.”
With a warming of US-Chinese relations, Katherine’s mother at the age of 42, was given an opportunity to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Katherine was soon given an opportunity to study at UT alongside her mother.
Katherine shares a memorable story from her first day in America. “My mother had arranged for a friend to take her to the airport to pick me up. Cars were not common in China, and I had never really spent any time tinkering with cars. However, when my mother’s friend shared that there was a problem with her vehicle, I used my experience of reverse engineering mechanical things to successfully fix the issue. Everyone, including myself, was quite surprised to learn of my hidden car mechanic skills.”
In reflecting upon the influence her mother had on her own success, “Seeing my mother push herself academically even in her 40’s had a huge impact on me.” Katherine would graduate and later go on to pursue a Ph.D. at the ivy-league Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
“While at Cornell, I had the opportunity to meet some of my academic heroes. I also met some of the greatest minds working at Bell Labs in nearby New Jersey. I recall one incident of being nervous to meet Dennis Richie, the founder of Unix. He was like a rock-star to me, and here I was shaking his hand. I knew that based on my research area of interest, Bell Labs was where I wanted to be.”
Upon receiving her doctorate in 1998, Guo moved to start her career at Bell Labs in Murray Hill. “I am grateful for the amazing opportunity at Bell Labs to be mentored by and collaborate with some of the greatest minds in a broad range of technology fields including Al Aho, whose “dragon book” is used for compiler education by virtually all university computer science programs, Arun Netravali, the Marconi Prize and US National Medal of Technology winner behind the development of HDTV, Krishan Sabnani, IEEE Sumner Award and McDowell Award winner, renowned for successful transfer of innovation into commercial products, Markus Hofmann, the Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award winner, Thomas Woo, the ACM Software System Award winner and many other fantastic colleagues and friends.”
Today Dr. Guo works within the area of mass-media distribution across wireless networks.
“I’ve grown up seeing the evolution of video streaming and have been proud to contribute to this area of advanced wireless networking. As our networks become more robust, our processors more powerful and the pioneering work and innovations at Bell Labs improves the technology behind content distribution, all of us are now able to simultaneously stream hi-definition multimedia content. Nobody wants their Game of Thrones or World Cup finals game to be interrupted.”
Beyond her academic achievements, Dr. Guo often mentors Ph.D. candidates and high-school students. “My father, while brilliant, was also great at inter-personal and social interactions and this thankfully rubbed off on me. I try to share that researchers are not socially awkward geniuses anymore. At Nokia Bell Labs, we work in collaborative teams of fellow scientists.”
Nokia is proud to have Dr. Guo working among our distinguished researchers and scientists and are honored to share her story and unique experience as part of our celebration of Ada Lovelace’s legacy.
Like Ada, Dr. Katherine Guo is forging new knowledge and blazing new trails for fellow women in the area of science and technology.