One sometimes hears questions like 'Why should Maltese taxpayers support research and academia?' and 'Is all the money spent on scholarships justified?'
Many of today's large IT companies such as Google started out as a research effort. It is true that we do not hear about such success stories every day, but I believe the country should provide the soil, seeds and nutrients so that out of a thousand seeds, one might become a tree.
When I came to choose a topic for my Masters, I selected runtime monitoring, a topic that seemed to have the most potential for industrial applications. The concept behind it was simple: We should never assume that a computer programme will never fail, so we should continuously monitor it. If something goes wrong the monitor would detect it and raise an alarm.
If you think about it, we monitor many things all the time: our streets, our shops, airport... and if something goes wrong, it does not go unnoticed and whatever caused the problem is identified.
Together with my supervisor, Gordon Pace, I continued to build on this idea at University, and local industry provided us with real-life case studies. Working hand-in-hand with industry proved to be crucial in understanding what was required in practice. Apart from my supervisor, there is currently a group of three, soon to be five master students, four final-year projects and myself as a Ph.D student working on the subject, with another two lecturers being involved.
By focusing some of its limited resources on runtime monitoring the University is reaping results. The seed I received two years ago has sprouted and we have set up a start-up company, Prochrony Systems Ltd, with the aim of supporting software companies wishing to employ runtime monitoring techniques.
The concentration of resources has also been crucial in attracting the attention of the international community. So far we have managed to publish our work at three international conferences. And it has now been confirmed that next year the international symposium for runtime monitoring is going to be held in Malta.
Being a researcher has proved to be a great lesson of perseverance whereby results take long to materialise. Research has also taught me to trust in the twists and turns of everyday random thoughts and events. Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it.
Research openings in Malta are still very limited but fortunately I am now working as a research assistant on a project funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST). Anyone wishing more information can visit the project webpage www.cs.um.edu.mt/svrg/Projects/DERSIFS.html.
Mr Colombo's Master's research was supported under the Malta Government Scholarship Scheme.