IETF News

Today’s IETF Leaders: Mirja Kühlewind, PhD

By: Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Date: July 5, 2017

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Began IETF participation: 2010
Current role: Transport area director
Previous roles: RTP Media Congestion Avoidance Techniques (RMCAT) and TCP Increased Security (TCPINC) Working Group chair
Day job: Senior Research, ETH Zurich’s Computer Engineering and Networks Laboratory, Network Systems Group
Favorite aspect of leadership: Gaining management experience

I first got involved with the IETF when I started my PhD. A colleague, who was already involved with the organization, pointed out that it was starting work closely related to my own interests. I attended my first IETF meeting in 2010, when the CONEX [Congestion Exposure] Working Group (WG) held a BoF meeting. From then on, it was my own initiative that kept me working with the IETF—I had support from my group, and they usually had enough travel budget for me to attend the meetings.

Three years ago, I became chair of the RMCAT [RTP Media Congestion Avoidance Techniques] Working Group. I gave that up when I became Transport area director (AD). I also was chair of the TCPINT Working Group for half a year. So I became an AD just six years after joining the IETF.

A limited number of people are involved in the Transport area. When I became more active, I was encouraged to take the role of a Working Group chair. Transport AD wasn’t an option until I finished my PhD. Ultimately, it worked out nicely because I got stable funding for a project for a little more than two years, which freed me up to consider the job. The project is funded by Switzerland and includes proposed work that we plan to bring into the IETF. So it helped me justify spending so much time on IETF work. My two-year term as Transport AD began in March 2016.

I hope that my experience as AD can count as management experience and that people value it. It’s a good way to improve your skills because you are in a management position where you don’t have any power, but you need to motivate people. For me, it is about how well I manage Working Groups and how well I manage my time. I spend 40% of my time on my AD work and 60% on my research project. It can be a challenge to balance them.

I don’t think that ETH directly benefits from me being Transport AD. But they did get external funding for our project, and that funding had a strong focus on making an impact on industry. So my standardization work may have helped to get the project funded. I don’t think I needed a leadership role for that. Being a Working Group chair was probably enough to show that I had IETF experience.

Everybody’s biggest concern about taking on an IETF leadership role is time management. I do it on a 40% basis. It’s a little stressful, yes, but it is possible. The other reason it’s hard to find people for the Transport AD role is that the right person not only needs support, money, and time for the IETF, but also must have an overview about what’s going on in Transport. I was in the unique position that I was following the same Working Groups that I now carry as AD—it’s no extra effort.

I don’t have a plan yet for when my term is over, but I know I’d like to stay involved in the IETF. When my ETH project is finished, I’ll be a four-year post doc. I’ll need to make a decision about whether to stay in academics or go into industry. If I apply for a job next year, I won’t stand as Transport AD—I can’t ask a new employer to let me spend 40% of my time on the IETF. Even as a professor, it would be hard for me to get 40% of my time off for the IETF.

It’s been an interesting experience, particularly because I’m just starting my career. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve made a lot of industry contacts that I’ve gotten to know well. I’m grateful—the IETF as a community has provided me with networking opportunities and a source of ideas for research.

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