“If you don’t knock on doors, opportunities won’t happen,” said Breno Dantas Cruz, who came to know Virginia Tech without stepping foot on campus.

While at Notre Dame finishing his master’s degree and looking toward his next educational chapter, Cruz remembered reading about the research of Eli Tilevich, a professor of computer science and director of Virginia Tech’s Software Innovations Lab, featured in The Washington Post. At the time, Tilevich and his class were looking to develop apps to address real-life problems, including predicting arrival times of Blacksburg Transit buses.

“I thought to myself, I need to talk to this guy,” said Cruz. He picked up the phone and was able to speak with Tilevich directly. He grew more excited about attending Virginia Tech knowing that he could further develop his research in the area of mobile development systems in the Department of Computer Science.

“You could say the rest is history,” said Cruz, as he completes his final semester as a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate. He will graduate in May.

Cruz’s dissertation research explores the issues of programmability, efficiency, and privacy in the development and evolution of mobile and Internet of Things applications. 

Cruz plans to continue his journey in academia with a post-doc appointment at the Laboratory for Software Design at Iowa State University, where he will be working on solving exciting new problems in deep learning and edge computing.

As Cruz’s advisor, Tilevich helped to open many doors at the beginning of his academic journey at Virginia Tech, introducing him to all of the lab members. “The environment was diverse, open minded, and receptive,” he said. Everyone was also from a different place geographically, which made an impact on Cruz, a native of Brazil.

“Breno’s tenure in computer science at Virginia Tech has been an exemplary synergistic relationship between a Ph.D. trainee and an institution,” said Tilevich. “He has managed to take advantage of all our great opportunities — our systems group’s undoubted strength, supportive research environment, and relationship with industry leaders — while our doctoral program has benefited from his unique background, perspectives, and creativity, leading to such impressive outcomes and external recognition.”

Cruz and Eli Tilevich, a professor of computer science and Cruz's advisor, attend a conference together prior to COVID-19. Photo submitted by Breno Dantas Cruz.
Eli Tilevich, a professor of computer science and Cruz's advisor, and Cruz attend a conference together prior to COVID-19. Photo submitted by Breno Dantas Cruz.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer software engineering from the Universidad de Brasilia, Cruz felt the pull to study abroad. “You cannot compete with the West, where most of the best universities reside,” said Cruz.

Cruz shares that he has missed in-person interactions with his lab mates due to COVID-19, especially the pingpong table that served as a central hub for them to come together.

“Getting advice from the seniors or just having someone say a few words can have a major impact,” said Cruz.

However, this past year did set the stage for some notable accomplishments, including receiving the Young Experts in Services Computing Student Paper Award by the Industry of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society. With nearly 85,000 members, it is the world's leading organization of computing professionals.

“It was not expected,” said Cruz, on receiving the award. He was nominated by a reviewer at the annual conference who put it forward for its creativity and impact on the community. 

The paper, “STARGAZER: A Deep Learning Approach for Estimating the Performance of Edge-Based Clustering Applications,” was co-authored by students in both the Software Innovations and Distributed Systems and Storage Labs, along with Tilevich.

Cruz in his research element at a conference prior to COVID-19. Photo submitted by Breno Dantas Cruz.
Cruz in his research element at a conference prior to COVID-19. Photo submitted by Breno Dantas Cruz.

For the 2020-21 academic year, Cruz was also one of three students in the department to receive the BitShares Graduate Fellowship, made possible through an endowment from computer science alumnus Dan Larimer ’03. The fellowship supports graduate students in the College of Engineering who are researching fields related to interdisciplinary cryptocurrency technologies, including but not limited to alternative currency, digital currency, and digital asset exchange.

“Receiving this fellowship has given my research much appreciated external recognition, giving me the confidence to continue pushing the boundaries of applying blockchain technology to solve important system design problems,” said Cruz.

As he adds Virginia Tech alumnus to his credentials, Cruz said he feels confident about the opportunities in front of him. “I know a very bright future lies ahead if I keep knocking on the right doors,” Cruz said. As he likes to remind himself, “it’s the journey, not the finish.”

— Written by Jenise L. Jacques