A Tale of Two Careers

| October 13, 2017

Andrew Viterbi Honored at the Ming Hsieh Institute’s Electrical Engineering Pioneer Series.

From left to right: Sandeep Gupta, EE department chair, Andrew Viterbi, and Shri Narayanan, Director of the Ming Hsieh Institute pose in front of student art inspired by the Viterbi algorithm. Photo Credit: USC Viterbi

On September 25th, the Ming Hsieh Institute and the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering honored Dr. Andrew Viterbi at the 2017 Pioneer Series Lecture. Dr. Viterbi, for whom the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is named, is a USC Trustee, Presidential Chair Professor, and a PhD alumnus of the USC electrical engineering department. He is a co-founder of Qualcomm and creator of the Viterbi algorithm, which plays a vital role in wireless digital communication.

Yannis Yortsos, Dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Zohrab A. Kaprielian Dean’s Chair in Engineering, and Chester Dolley Chair in Petroleum Engineering attended the event and later spoke about Viterbi’s impact. “Andrew Viterbi, through his celebrated Viterbi algorithm, single-handedly helped connect the world. This connection not only brought people together across time zones, countries and cultures, it also engendered unprecedented global economic prosperity and the dramatic reduction of extreme poverty. His advances will surely also be the backbone of the future adventures of humans in space. Our school could not be prouder of its association with Andrew and the beloved late Erna Viterbi, whose humanity, ingenuity, and commitment to engineering education, reflect our own fundamental values.”

In front of an overflow audience of students, alumni, and colleagues at the Ming Hsieh Institute, Viterbi spoke about his academic and entrepreneurial careers. He marveled that while his business career was launched, in part, as an effort to combat the Soviet Union, the very roots of his academic career were in the work of a Russian mathematician – Andrei Markov.

“Our school could not be prouder of its association with Andrew and the beloved late Erna Viterbi, whose humanity, ingenuity, and commitment to engineering education, reflect our own fundamental values.” – USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos

“Andrew Viterbi has transformed the world in so many incredible ways—all with electrical engineering at the core. It was a real treat, and absolutely inspiring to hear directly from him about his amazing journey,” said Shri Narayanan, professor of electrical engineering, Director of the Ming Hsieh Institute, and the Niki and Max Nikias Chair in Engineering.

Shri Narayanan, left, Ming Hsieh Institute Director, with Andrew Viterbi in front of the winning piece from the student art competition. Photo Credit: USC Viterbi

The talk was followed by a discussion with Dr. Viterbi that was moderated by Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering professors Urbashi Mitra and Keith Chugg, whose careers were both heavily influenced by his work.

“Andy is one of the greatest engineers of the twentieth century and has long been a huge inspiration to me,” said Chugg. “I have spent the majority of my career working on extensions of the Viterbi algorithm, so it was my great honor and privilege to participate in the event.”

Mitra, the Gordon S. Marshall Chair in Engineering, echoed Chugg’s sentiments. “I owe much of my career to Andy Viterbi and I am in awe of his technological contributions and his incredible graciousness.  With the students, Andy was a rock star!  He spoke with everyone who approached him and kindly gave them autographs. Andy Viterbi is a real pioneer and I’m honored to know him.”

Leading up to the event, The Ming Hsieh Institute organized an art competition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the famed Viterbi Algorithm. Entries from students, professors, and alumni, were inspired by Dr. Viterbi’s groundbreaking work.

A post shared by USCMingHsiehEE (@usc_ee) on

“I wanted to simplify the algorithm in a way that would draw people in,” said grand prize winner Ryan Winters (M.S., EE, ’19).  “I think the art will offer a taste of what it is to be an engineer.” Runners up in the competition included PhD students Anton Shkel and Moises Herrera Buitrago and undergraduate student Maria Camasmie. All the submissions can be seen here.

During the reception, Dr. Viterbi presented the winning artists with prizes, mingled with guests, and helped to unveil a plaque with his name in the Ming Hsieh Institute, alongside previous Pioneer Series honorees.The always humble Viterbi shared some thoughts on his career and the future. “I recognize my exceptional good fortune to have entered a technological field during a period of remarkable development, among whose consequences have been the reshaping of the world’s economy and society. I have no doubt that such opportunities are continuing and expanding for the members of the millennial generation who attended my Pioneer Lecture today.”

Watch Dr. Viterbi’s entire talk and download his presentation here.