Great people, great ideas

Alum Art Hitomi talks about what ICS has given him — and how he gives back

Long after finishing his studies the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences in 1996, Art Hitomi continues to bridge the worlds of academia and industry. He launched his first tech startup while still working on his Ph.D. at UCI. Now the CTO and co-founder of the Irvine-based Numecent, whose “cloudpaging” technology allows better and faster access to applications than traditional download and browser-based applications, Hitomi remains engaged with ICS. Last year, he mentored a team in the Butterworth Product Development competition — and was so impressed with the team’s work that he gave one of its members a job at Numecent. For Hitomi, the ICS experience has always been about connecting with great people who have great ideas.

What brought you to ICS in the first place?

I really wanted to get a four-year university degree in computer science, and I felt at ICS, I would have access to great resources. Starting off with an Apple II in elementary school, I knew I wanted to get into the more expensive UNIX machines that come with getting a formal education. I knew someone in my computer club a long time ago who was a UCI grad, and everybody spoke highly about the outstanding program at ICS.

You’re a UCI lifer. When did you know that you’d go from being a freshman to getting your doctorate as an Anteater?

It was really because of my adviser Richard Taylor. As an undergrad, I was doing a project class with Dick, and he recognized me as someone who should join not only his team, but who could start company with his grad students. It was my senior year in college, and I was like, “I’m done!” I had several job offers, and I wanted exposure to real-world problems. But Dick told me, “If you join my team, I’d be very happy to help you do a master’s degree.”

I got to know Dick’s group, and they were a bunch of superstar grad students. I soon recognized how much influence he had, especially on Roy Fielding’s HTTP research. I remember being blown away by how cutting-edge the work was that I’d be doing.

You started your first company while you were a grad student, right?

Yes, and I learned a heck of a lot about getting a company through a startup. Subsequently, I reinvented the company with a different approach, based on the same core technology; that became Numecent.

Basically, my dissertation was based on what Numecent does today. We take software applications and deliver, manage and execute them in a way that is faster and more efficient. For example, when we deliver something like Microsoft Office, we figure out what’s required to run the app, and deliver only that component to execute — which takes a fraction of the time and memory it would take to deliver the whole DVD over the wire. We then “page” in and out other components on demand or by prediction. We call this “cloudpaging.”

Enabling the rapid delivery of apps solves one of the problems of delivering apps, but when they’re deployed, people often run into issues because the app is running in different environments than the environment it was built for. So, we built a container, almost like a box, that we deploy along with the app. The app thinks it’s always in the same place.

What was your first patented invention?

The first patent I had actually had to do with the container — making things run reliably in different environments — and I’ve had many other patents since then, including one on a way to deliver apps in an efficient manner. And I registered my first patent while I was a still a grad student at ICS.

What distinguishes ICS from other CS schools?

There’s certainly no question about the caliber of professors and students at ICS. I can say the grad students I was with when I was working with Dick were among the smartest people I’ve ever met — and some of them are amazingly famous now! Even back then, before they were famous, I knew was working with a special group, and I feel more and more proud of my time at UCI the further away it gets.

Talk about your involvement with the Butterworth Competition. Why do you think this is a valuable contest for ICS students?

Well, I think it’s fantastic that ICS and the Samueli School of Engineering have developed a program like that. I wish they’d had something like that when I was a student! I had the opportunity to mentor a team, and what was great about that was not only working with talented students, but also working with great ideas. And it was a way to give back to the school: to give these students a peek into industry, and an idea as to why the skills they’re learning at UCI will have such huge value when they are finished with their education. I’m mentoring another team this year, as well.

I heard that you hired someone from last year’s Butterworth team.

Yes, last year I would up hiring Alex Van Buskirk after the competition. The greatest thing about a company like Numecent is that it’s growing, and being able to think quickly on your feet, and being willing to take risks and contribute new ideas — those are attributes we value very highly, and Alex has them. Honestly, from my standpoint, it’s all about who you meet in your experiences, and at UCI, you’ve got great faculty and great students. Certainly, it’s very challenging: ICS has some of the more difficult majors on campus. But that just means that the people you work with are capable of meeting rigorous standards — which are now even stronger than when I was in school.

What other ways have you remained involved with UCI as an alumnus?

Well, I certainly check in with Dick Taylor now and then to chat about research. I like to understand the new thinking. I’ve deliberately kept my company close to UCI, and not only so I can keep up with what UCI is up to. We also bring in a lot of UCI students as interns. That way, I can give them experience doing commercial work, so that that kind of work can be accessible to them when they graduate.

— Story by Ted B. Kissell