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Friday 14 October 2016 9:22am

Associate Professor Andrew Trotman.

After nearly year and a half in the US helping fine-tune the efficiency of eBay's search engine, Computer Science's Associate Professor Andrew Trotman has just returned to Otago, rebooting his ambitious information retrieval research.

“One of our goals is to be able to index a 25 terabyte data collection, or larger, on the kind of machines you can buy and take home,” Associate Professor Trotman says. “We believe it is do-able – there's nothing to make us believe that we can't. Compression ties into this as well. We want our indexes to be as small and efficient as possible – the better the compression, the faster you can get the information off the disc.”

"Associate Professor Trotman is now working to attract a new crew of postgraduate students to pick up and run with various aspects of his research interests."

Associate Professor Trotman's years of industry experience have led him from working locally in computer animation for what would become Dunedin's Animation Research Limited, to becoming a driving force behind some of the UK's first academic e-Publishing and digital library enterprises (notably, BioMedNet). Upon request, he joined the United States Government-funded National Center for Biotechnology Information to work on its PubMedCentral biomedical literature resource.

These endeavors were interspersed with moves back to the University of Otago to enjoy life in Dunedin.

“When I was 10 my family moved from Newcastle in the UK to Dunedin. I did my undergraduate at Otago and returned a year later to do my Masters. Ten years after that, in 2002, I came back to do my PhD in information retrieval. Just as I submitted my PhD thesis in 2006, the software engineering lecturer resigned and the department wanted someone with industry experience and a research track record. I knew how to be successful at building good software and managing a group of people and had just completed a PhD. It was a perfect match.

Living in Dunedin is a "no-brainer"

“Why do I keep returning to Dunedin? I could be anywhere in the world – it is a no-brainer. It's a fantastic city. It's 10 minutes to anywhere – I have a 7-minute commute. The city is full of well-educated people I enjoy spending time with. People are doing good things in the hardware and software industry and I wake up each morning to a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.”

Associate Professor Trotman resisted Dunedin's attractions last year after he was approached by eBay while chairing a conference session on search engine efficiency at SIGIR, the top international conference in his field. That conversation led to Associate Professor Trotman working in Silicon Valley within eBay's “Search Back End” group. He worked on a number of projects to make both indexing and searching faster in a system that processes thousands of transactions a minute.

“eBay knows there's a correlation between its profits and the rate of successful searches by its customers,” he says. “It can either get more computers or seek talented people to improve the efficiency of its search engines.”

Having shut down his Otago lab when he left, Associate Professor Trotman is now working to attract a new crew of postgraduate students to pick up and run with various aspects of his research interests.

“Information retrieval, search engines, semi-structured data, efficiency, parallel and distributed indexing and searching – it all mixes in together. It's all software engineering. We ask ourselves: can we find and most useful information from the terabytes that are available? If we can then how do we build efficient systems to do this?”

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