Jeannette M. Wing, SB and SM ’79, PhD ‘83
“The brilliance and intensity of the students and faculty at MIT taught me this life lesson: Be passionate about what you choose to do. MIT opened my eyes to a world of choices and to a world of people who never sleep. The excitement and energy at MIT were always in the air—I was surrounded by deep thinkers, clever innovators, and inspiring teachers. Whether it was making vats of cole slaw for the EECS Steak Fry, running across the Harvard Bridge to turn in my 6.034 take-home quiz before midnight, or going into seclusion as I prepared for my oral exam in graduate school, I always felt that MIT was about extremes: the most, the best, the toughest, the craziest.”
Jeannette Wing is the President’s Professor of Computer Science and Department Head at Carnegie Mellon University. As Department Head, she oversees a faculty of 90 at one of the top computer science departments in the world. She just finished three years serving the National Science Foundation as the Assistant Director for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate. As CISE AD, she managed a budget of over $600M, initiated new programs to push the frontiers of computing, and most importantly, worked with the NSF Director and her fellow ADs to formulate science and engineering policy for the Nation. Since 82% of federally-funded academic research in computer science comes from NSF, she especially felt responsible for the vibrancy of the academic computing research community. She promoted the importance of computing not just as a discipline in its own right but also as an instrumental force for progress in all science and engineering disciplines and for meeting societal grand challenges. The national platform enabled her to spread “computational thinking” for research, e.g., through the foundation-wide Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation program, and in education, e.g., through the Computing Education for the 21st Century program. Her stint in DC gave her unparalleled opportunities to work closely with the Administration’s science and technology policy advisors and colleagues at other federal agencies that fund R&D in networking and information technology.
Wing is grateful to the opportunities MIT gave her. Her VI-A co-op assignments at Bell Laboratories culminated in an S.M. thesis on partial-match retrieval supervised by John Reiser and Ron Rivest. Thanks to her Ph.D. advisor, John Guttag, she spent summers as an intern at the USC Information Sciences Institute and Xerox PARC. Sharing offices with Barbara Liskov’s students exposed Wing to cutting-edge ideas on data abstraction and distributed computing, as well as arcane emacs commands. Her Ph.D. thesis on two-tiered specifications continues to underlie specification language design today. After she graduated from MIT, she spent two years on the faculty at USC and joined Carnegie Mellon in 1985. From her early days as an undergraduate, when the field of computer science was so new she remembers studying from her professors’ typewritten course notes, she has always sought to understand the foundations of computer science. This interest drives her passion in her research, starting from formal methods, to programming languages, concurrent and distributed systems, and now trustworthy computing. She credits John Guttag, Barbara Liskov, and her Xerox PARC mentor, Jim Horning, with instilling in her the research tenacity to work a problem to death, and then turn it on its side and work it again. Another MIT extreme!