Confessions of a researchaholic

September 27, 2018

How filter recruiters

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:01 am
Tags: ,

It is usually much more effective to talk directly with the hiring managers for job opportunities. Recruiters, either internally to the companies or externally in agencies, are usually less effective, even though I have encountered a few very good ones and enjoyed the processes.

If you are receiving more recruiter contacts than your bandwidth can handle, one strategy is as follows. Tell the recruiter that you are very happy with your current job (true for me, but pretend to be so even if you are not) and are not thinking about switching now. However, you are interested to know more about the opportunity, and might be able to recommend other suitable candidates.

A run-of-the-mill recruiter, looking for a quick score, will usually pass by after reading this message.
A smart recruiter, on the other hand, knows the importance of building relationships and expanding networks, and top candidates usually have good jobs; they will be more likely to get back to you.

August 10, 2017

Leaving Hong Kong

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:32 pm

[Time for me to write this after the course/RPG requests start to flood in prior to the beginning of the next semester.]

I am joining Adobe Research in the bay area to increase the practical impacts of my research and reduce the excessive jet-lags I have to deal with.
This move is purely due to personal/geographical reasons; I love living in Hong Kong and being a professor.

I will remain affiliated with HKU for a while, without taking new PhD/MS/MPhil candidates or teaching classes. I will continue to help students through my open mentor program and internships with Adobe Research. Past course information is available under my homepage.

I would like to thank my family, friends, colleagues, collaborators, and students who have given me such a wonderful experience in Hong Kong. I will continue to explore this interesting world.

Hug <3

Specific thanks to:

Baining, Danny, Greg, Julie, and Marc for references;

Doug for all the advice and the book “a primer for university presidents”;

BH and dad for motivating and encouraging me to explore outside the bubble;

Pedro for relaying my application from HKUST to HKU, and sharing his restaurant list which I shamelessly borrowed for hosting guests;

Wenping and Yizhou for a vibrant graphics group;

CK and TT for advices on funding, service, and management;
Tomas, my last MSR intern, for joining me in Hong Kong;

Jun, my first official (no-shadow) student, for outstanding performance;
Qi, for bringing me into VR/display/perception research;
Mamba, my last HKU PhD student – I will do my best to help you succeed like your predecessors;

All my collaborators for the chance of learning from you and working on so many exciting projects;

DRPC members, especially Reynold, for all the fun in RPG recruiting;

DCDC members for their confidence in letting me teach 3 crucial courses: introductory programming, mobile computing, and machine learning;
Jolly for being the master TA for several classes;
HF for always kindly scheduling my classes in the afternoons;
KP for valuable experiences in teaching C1117;
Jack for leaving me C3314, which expelled teachers like the “defense against the dark arts” class in Hogwarts;

The general and technical office staff, especially Wandy, Priscilla, and Olive for all the paper works and Maria for dealing with my always incorrect/incomplete/delayed expense/trip/grant reports;

Francis, you still owe me a lesson in Cantonese foul words.

September 19, 2016

Contact for job applications

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:25 pm

Having a middleman who knows well both the job applicant and the hiring manager can help a lot, compared to submitting and examining job applications in the dark.

However, if I were the hiring manager, I would prefer the candidate to contact me directly (and cc/mention the reference in the email). This is more direct and sincere; the job is between the candidate and me, not the reference. And I can ask the reference for more information if I need.

In the initial contact, keep in mind that you are the seller and they are the buyer. So, the key is to convince them why they should hire you, by focusing on what you can do for them instead of the other way around.

March 27, 2016

Equality versus fairness

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:05 am
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A CEO gets paid 100 times the average employee salary. It is definitely not equal. But is it fair? The answer depends on whether the CEO has contributed 100 times than the average employees.

It is not always easy to tell fairness from equality, but it is important not to confuse the two.

Fairness should be maintained, but it is unfair and counter-productive to enforce equality.

Algorithmic species

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:04 am
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Algorithms can already devise algorithms and write programs.

It is just a matter of time before they can do that in a scale massive enough to displace many, if not most, programming jobs, just like what robots have already done to the manufacturing jobs.

January 29, 2016

Research opening

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:53 pm
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February 22 2016 update: I managed to spend all the expiring grant money already.

I have several opening research positions. Please contact me if interested, and help spread the information.

You pick whatever topic you like to do as long as (1) it can be published in a top graphics or HCI venue (e.g. SIGGRAPH, SIGGRAPH Asia, ToG, UIST, CHI), and (2) I have enough interests and expertise to help you.

Send me a brief description of your research plans along with the usual information, like your resume. Tell me why you want to work with me and how I can help you.

The first period will begin anytime from now and end on April 14 2016.
I can extend your contract if your performance is good enough.

These will be HKU positions, but other than school requirements you can work anywhere you like.

If you like to continue involve your current advisers or collaborators, just let me know. I usually like to know and collaborate with different people.

I have an expiring research grant that needs to be consumed prior to April 14 2016, and the remaining can be used only for hiring staff.

March 16, 2015

PhD student recruiting

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:15 pm
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On behalf of the HKU CS department, I would like to invite top students all over the world to apply our PhD program for academic year 2016-17.

HKU is a top ranked university conducting world class research and teaching. It is located at the heart of Hong Kong Island, aka the downtown area.
Hong Kong’s diverse culture, liberal policy, and vibrant economy offer unique life styles and career opportunities.

September 23, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:33 pm
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I agree that there is enough inefficiency in the world that can allow really smart people to make a lot of money while having a lot of fun by moving things around.

But we all know the field is already quite crowded. Why do you want to just move things if you can create things? There is only a finite amount/variety of things to move, but infinite amount/variety to create.

To me, creating things is just more fun, even without the money factor. And you can make even more money if you can create the right things.

[Background: Most of the headhunter inquiries I have received since 2001 are about moving things instead of creating things, even though I have been spending my entire career in the latter. They said “my profile might fit”, but I never see why.]

March 15, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:22 pm
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A recent PhD graduate whom I know well, who has been doing quite well in graphics research, just took a non-research job in a non-graphics position, among several postdoc offers from top research institutions.

The reasons he cited are numerous, but the 2 main ones are:

. He likes graphics research, but he is getting bored and tired of the SIGGRAPH game, including deadline crunch and dealing with reviewers.

. He would like to learn something new and try a different life style.

In a nutshell, I think he is burned out. I hope I have done my best to help him achieve work-life balance (I did that quite well myself, even when I was a grad student), but I guess it is just too hard for normal people to be much disciplined.

Then I realized that I probably also had some kind of burnout around my graduation. I took a non-research position as the first job, even though it was in a graphics company (NVIDIA). I also wanted to try learning new things (hardware architecture) and living a different style (engineer).

So I guess it is probably OK. People are not meant to be doing the same thing all the time. This is also why I like to try different job sectors and geographical locations.

There are two things to watch out, though, all based on my personal experiences: passion, and rust.


I have a very simple rule to choose jobs: do what you really like, and be very good at it.

Sometimes, when people get burned out, they might temporarily settle for something that they neither really like nor really be good at. But eventually, you will know if the job is not for you. I did not realize how much I like doing research until after I was not been able to spend enough time on it for about 3.5 years after my graduation.

The important thing is to get out there as quickly as possible. Otherwise, you will eventually become one of these people who are not really happy or good at their jobs but also cannot quit.


People tend to get rusty for skills that they have not practiced for a while. This is particularly so for advanced skills, like research.

So, make sure you do whatever you can to be active in research during your non-research job. Otherwise, you might not be able to come back, even if you want.

I have been trying my best to be engaged in research during my NVIDIA days. I even managed to publish a single authored graphics hardware paper. But it still took me about 2 to 3 years to get back in shape for SIGGRAPH after joining MSR. The difference between SIGGRAPH and other graphics venue is like the difference between playing professional sports and working out in a gym.
I guess SIGGRAPH is probably an extreme case, but I hope you get what I mean.

March 7, 2013

Being a prof in HK versus US

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:47 pm
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During my faculty job hunting I have interviewed with and got offers from schools in both US and Hong Kong. Below are my personal opinions about the tradeoffs.

Disclaimer: I have not worked as a professor in a US school. My opinions below are based on experiences as a Stanford grad student who has seen how top profs operate, a MSR researcher with frequent university collaborations, and a faculty candidate who has heard a lot during the interview trips.
People who have worked in both places could likely provide more accurate opinions. (Feel free to comment if you are one of these people.)

Q: How to choose between a top school in HK and a top school in the US

By default most people will pick the latter. But it is not that simple.

If you prefer to spend a lot of time getting money while having smart students doing most of the research, go to a top US school.
If you prefer to spend time doing hands-on research1 instead of writing grant proposals and you do not mind slightly less talented students2, go to a top HK school.

1I enjoy deep involvement in every project and student, and (sometimes) publishing single authored papers. I do not really find grant proposals very interesting.

2Most top students still want to go to the US, but there are always those who prefer to stay in Asia due to personal reasons. And they usually come to HK as it is the most westernized place in Asia with the best schools.

Q: How to choose between a top school in HK and a non-top school in the US?

Only go to a top university in a local maximum sense. This is how you attract the best of everything (funding, students, prestige, etc.). Due to financial issues (e.g. funding and student loan) and technology shifts (e.g. all these MOOC), I predict non-top US schools will have a much harder time in the future.
Contrast this with the rising Asia, and the fact that that they treat education very seriously.

March 5, 2013

How to position yourself to get the jobs you want

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:00 pm
Tags: ,

Good programmers and computer scientists are in high demand. So if you have enough qualifications, you should have no problem finding a job in your desired sector and geographic location.

The key is your qualifications. Being who I am, I have never failed to help anyone who can shine regardless of the constraints (e.g. where you come from, the visa issue of your destination, etc.). If you cannot, there is little I can do. And to be brutally honest, I am not interested in helping mediocre people.

My answer is as simple as this. There are no more tricks or hints, at least for the top jobs I know of.

Thus, if you are a student working with me, you are already halfway into the door. The other half depends on your productivity. For example:

. If you are looking for research/academic slots, you need high quality publications to demonstrate your research skills. Do not be a graphics/HCI PhD student who cannot get any SIGGRAPH/CHI/UIST papers before graduation.

. If you are looking for industry jobs, you need good projects to demonstrate your coding and teamwork abilities. Do not be an undergrad student who cannot perform well in my project classes.

February 14, 2013

Open mentoring

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:23 pm
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If you want to strengthen your credentials for school/job applications while having fun learning about computer science research without any additional costs or hassles, I can help you.

See below (and my advising style) for details, and let me know if you have questions or comments.
Please also help spread the news; we are making this world a better place.


It is becoming more and more competitive to get to a good job or school. You need a glistering resume. And passive measures like grades, ranks, and standard test scores are no longer sufficient because they do not reflect the active skills which are crucial for today’s highly dynamic and creative job functions.

School application example: 20 years ago if you are a top 5 percent student from a number 1 department/school in your specific country/region with good GRE/TOEFL scores (all passive measures), you can probably get into MIT/Berkeley/Stanford PhD program without much problem.
Today, you will likely not make the cut without impressive active measures such as publications and recommendations from top people in your field.

Job application example: 20 years ago a Stanford PhD without any publication can probably beat a Tsinghua PhD with strong publications in getting a high tech job in the US. Today will be the exact opposite.

In a nutshell, active measures are gaining importance over passive measures. But they are also harder to come by entirely on your own.
This is why people are doing all these internships and school projects. The question is: how good are your internship/project mentors, and how much credibility their recommendations carry? If you plan to spend time on these, better pick a good mentor.


I have been mentoring and collaborating with many students and junior researchers for a while. I have this unique asynchronous style that is not only very effective (judging by the publication records and responses from my collaborators) but also very scalable (absolutely no resource constraint except our passion and commitment).

If you do well, you will get strong publications and strong letters of recommendation from me. I am well connected to top schools, companies, and recruiters. You will also have a lot of fun with your projects.
If you do not do well, you have nothing to lose, as long as you do not list me as a reference.


I work with you asynchronously through svn paper drafts and Google sites. It is up to you to decide when and where you work. The amount of time I spend on you is entirely proportional to your productivity. I seem to have this uncanny ability to remotely read human minds (and sense human emotions) more effectively than ordinary people can face-to-face (the origin of my “Jedi” nickname).

You start by telling me what interests you, and I brainstorm with you to find a good project direction.

I then pick a warm-up project, usually reproducing a known piece of work in your field of interest, such as writing a ray tracer (my favorite pet project for rendering) or implementing your favorite conference/journal paper.

Not everyone will survive this warm-up stage. But if you do, we move on to a creative project, aimed for a real conference or journal publication. You will have a chance to learn everything that ever needs to be learned about doing research and publishing a paper. I can claim this because I have several single-authored papers to prove the completeness of my skill-set. I also have papers with different numbers of authors to prove my collaboration and advising skills.


I am most experienced with senior-undergrad + graduate students as well as junior lab researchers, but I do not have any hard constraints. It really depends on how we feel about each other.

I particularly like to help those who lack proper guidance; there appears to be many irresponsible/incompetent mentors out there, so I consider myself doing a useful social service.

If you want to become my internal student, you will need to go through this process anyway.


As indicated above, we can start anytime you like.

However, you might want to time your school/job applications. For example, it is not sensible to start working with me a month before your school/job application deadline, because I will have little to say about you. A good rule of thumb is to contact me at least a year ahead.


As indicated above, you can work anywhere you like.
I have a shared online work-space for you to meet others, as well as channels for individual discussions.

I might be able to arrange a few internship quotas, but those are already very competitive, and frankly they make little (if any) difference for my mentoring style.

January 28, 2013

When to change jobs

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:54 am
Tags: ,

When not to change jobs: you find some negative aspects of your current job and believe going elsewhere can solve this problem (the greener pasture delusion). You might be disappointed as every job has pros and cons.
(I have a set of friends who want to move to each other’s company.)

A better reason to switch is when you find a job that is more likely than your current one to help you be happier, more successful, and grow more. Specifically, the decision should be driven by positive instead of negative thinking.

Never stay with the same institution for too long, even a top one.

This also has an interesting positive side effect for switching at the peaks. You want to switch at the peak so that you are in an optimal mental state to make the right choices and in an optimal position to negotiate your next job offers. If you wait for the bottom, it is too late; your market value is already in decline.

Choosing jobs

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:29 am
Tags: ,


I have a very simple answer to this supposedly complex question: choose a job that allows you to (1) do what you really like and (2) be very good at it.

Your happiness and productivity are what matter the most, and they are direct products of the two conditions above.
There are other important things, such as pay, reputation, location, and colleagues, but they matter much less, especially in the long run.

This simple strategy works superbly for me so far, even though it can produce unconventional choices that seem puzzling. But what you think about your life is more important than what others think about it.


[Added on February 22, 2015]

The main types of CS jobs include: engineer, researcher/scientist, professor, and entrepreneur. (Manager is part of all these and thus not explicitly listed.)

I have been through the first three and will do the rest before I die.
Here is my suggestion based on personal experience.

Being an engineer/researcher/scientist in a top, reasonably established company is likely the best choice as a first job for most fresh PhD graduates. You will have a relatively stable environment to focus and strong colleagues to help you grow and network. You will also learn the crucial lessons about practicing in the real world.
(I cannot emphasize more on the importance of all these especially the last one; you will see as time passes.)

I do not recommend starting as an assistant professor as that will require a lot of efforts outside core research and advising, such as teaching and funding, which are good exercises but more suitable when you become senior.
You may also miss out practical experiences unless you can have close industry collaborations.

Being part of a startup has the workload issue multiplied, and I prefer to do that as a professor for obvious reasons.

Bottom line: the exact job probably does not matter that much anyway if you can be happy and productive.

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