Argentine Researcher Helps Leading U.S. Wireless Company Develop Tomorrow's Cell Phones

By Doug Ramsey, 858-822-5825,

Former Calit2 Staff Researcher at UC San Diego Was "Born an Engineer"

San Diego, CA, March 31, 2008 -- Javier Girado has come a long way since being unable to pay his rent as an electronics researcher in Argentina. After losing all his savings not once but three times in the financial collapses of the Argentine economy, Girado moved to the United States for his Ph.D. and eventually landed at the University of California, San Diego doing research at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). But early this year, Girado got an offer he couldn't refuse: to work in the private sector at roughly double his academic salary.

Javier Girado at Calit2
QUALCOMM engineer Javier Girado on the UCSD campus with Calit2's Atkinson Hall in background.

Now Girado is working at QUALCOMM Inc., one of the top 100 employers in the country (according to Fortune magazine). He received stock and a signing bonus, and above all, he gets to continue doing what he loves best. "My passion is research," says Girado. "I am a practical person and I want to solve problems. I think I was born an engineer."

Girado spent summers in high school and college assembling and disassembling his Vespa. Before that, by age 12, he was taking apart the family radio to see how it worked, and at 16, he was fixing it. Some of his earliest recollections are of tractors and harvesting equipment on the family ranch near the small rural town of Chascomús, a three-hour drive from Buenos Aires. He went on to get his undergraduate and Master's degrees in electronic engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires. He began his research career in graduate school with a scholarship to work in the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial, commonly known as INTI, Argentina's federal agency in charge of developing of industrial technology.

Calit2 Visualization Group
In front of the large Varrier display, Javier Girado (far right) with colleagues from the Calit2 visualization group. They include (seated l-r) Tom DeFanti and Greg Dawe; and standing (l-r) Qian Liu, Jurgen Schulze, Hector Bracho, Calit2 director Larry Smarr, Joseph Keefe and Dan Sandin.
At INTI, Girado spent two years doing acoustics research, then switched to the electronics department to work on power amplifiers, and ultimately to the microprocessor division. After receiving his Master's degree in 1983, Girado stayed at INTI, one of the few organizations in Argentina able to afford the latest technology.  "I was lucky to be in the one place able to stay reasonably current on new technologies," says Girado. "We had a VAX 780 minicomputer capable of one million instructions per second, where now I have 10 Mips in my PDA!"

Unfortunately, says Girado, "in Argentina research is poorly paid. I was reluctant to leave the environment of INTI, but I couldn't even pay my rent."

Picking up PC software skills, Girado began to work part-time as an IT manager for private companies. As more companies signed up for his services, he cut back his hours at INTI to a bare minimum. In the early 1990s his company, Girado Systems, was providing support to dozens of companies -- half of them, Argentine subsidiaries of U.S. corporations, including Merck & Co. Girado began traveling regularly abroad to countries including Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Spain and the United States, where he spent months at a time in Silicon Valley. "I abandoned the hardware side because all of the demand was for software," he recalls.

Javier Girado and Tom DeFanti
Calit2 visualization director Tom DeFanti (right) with Javier Girado, who earned his Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Chicago, where he worked at the Electronic Visualization Lab with co-directors DeFanti and Dan Sandin.
On a trip to Chicago, Girado visited several universities, applied and was accepted into the Ph.D. Computer Science program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Selling his company in Argentina to his cousin in 1995, Girado saw his future in UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL), which had been developing the world's first CAVE immersive virtual-reality environment since 1991. "I saw the CAVE and a lab room with an oscilloscope and electronics to support this CAVE environment because everything in the CAVE was revolutionary technology," recalls Girado. "So although it was a computer science lab, the virtual reality aspects are based on interfacing lots of electronics, and there was no turning back. I thought to myself, 'This is the place I want to be!'"

Girado began developing a camera-based tracker for the CAVE environment that needed to operate at 120 frames per second (about four times faster than the standard video frame rate). To make that happen, recalls Girado, "I had to squeeze every ounce of power from the CPU."

To do so, Girado decided that computer-vision techniques would not be fast enough because they are very math-intensive. Instead, he focused on neural networks and algorithms that could be mapped to the core of the CPU. "Much of my career has centered on speed and performance, focusing on code that is efficient and can extract the best from whatever device I was working on," explains Girado. "I probably owe some of my talent for speed and performance to my early years doing research in Argentina, where we were dealing with slower access speeds and slower computers than might have been available at the same time in the U.S."

Javier Girado
Javier Girado's research at Calit2 included computer vision-based head tracking for the Personal Varrier, a true-3D teleconferencing system.
After receiving his Ph.D., Girado continued to work at EVL as a postdoctoral researcher for one year, when EVL co-founder Tom DeFanti retired from UIC, began spending a majority of his time in San Diego at Calit2, and asked Girado to make the move. In October 2005, Calit2 was constructing a huge 60-tile Varrier autostereoscopic display, invented at EVL by Girado's research mentor and EVL co-founder Dan Sandin. Girado took a month of vacation from EVL and spent it getting the Varrier up and running at Calit2. He opted to stay in San Diego despite the higher cost of housing after DeFanti -- by then Calit2's director of visualization -- offered Girado funding to continue his Ph.D. research in head tracking for the Personal Varrier, a true 3D teleconferencing system.

In August 2007 Calit2 hosted many of the key installations for SIGGRAPH's annual conference and expo. A QUALCOMM engineer watched Girado demonstrate the 3D-without-glasses Varrier, and suggested he might want to submit a resume. One week later, Girado began a series of interviews, but hiring was put on hold after they hit a snag: Girado's H1-B visa, it turned out, could not be transferred from UC San Diego to a private company. Based on Girado's previous track record in research, however, QUALCOMM applied for an "outstanding researcher" visa -- the O-1 visa for "aliens of extraordinary ability" -- with indefinite annual renewals, unlike the H1-B visa, which limits visa holders to a six-year stay.

Javier Girado
Girado contemplates his move to QUALCOMM...
The O-1 visa came through and Girado joined QUALCOMM in February 2008. He is part of the company's multimedia group, developing improved graphics capabilities. "We are developing embedded graphics capabilities on the chips that are used for communication in mobile phones and ultra-mobile PCs," explains Girado. "I think they were impressed with my interest in performance and wanted someone with a background in both hardware and software who could bring in ideas on how to make the chips run faster."

In the week between finishing at Calit2 and starting his new job at QUALCOMM, Girado did not take time off: he spent the week installing his tracker technology at Argonne National Laboratory. He is also continuing to work in his spare time with his former colleagues in the visualization group of Calit2 at UC San Diego.

QUALCOMM is now helping Girado apply for permanent U.S. residency. "I definitely want to stay in the United States because this is the best place to do research and development," says Girado. "I don't have to worry like I did in Argentina."

Related Links

UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory 
Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires 
Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial