Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kudos, ACM!

Kudos to ACM for featuring two prominent Female Computer Scientists on in this month's Communications of the ACM (CACM) -- Jeannette Wing and Barbara Liskov (via Valerie Barr). I especially enjoyed reading Valerie's article about Barbara's keynote at Grace Hopper. Barbara is the second woman to win the Turing Award, which is basically the Nobel Prize for Computer Science. I liked this:
"Liskov talked about her technical work that ultimately led to the Turing Award. Much of her work was motivated by an interest in program methodology and the questions of how programs should be designed and how programs should be structured. So, after receiving the Turing Award, she went back and reread the old literature, discovering anew that there is great material in old papers and that her students were unaware of it. So, she is now pointing people to these papers and encouraging people to read them. 
For example, three key papers she cited are:
  • Edsger Dijkstra, "Go To Considered Harmful," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 11, No. 3, March 1968, pp. 147–148.
  • Niklaus Wirth, "Program Development by Stepwise Refinement," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 14, No. 4, April 1971, pp. 221–227.
  • David Parnas, "Information Distribution Aspects of Design Methodology," IFIP Congress, 1971."
I recently had a similar "everything new is old again" epiphany. I was looking up a paper that everyone cited and realized it was far too recent. So I went down the citation rabbit hole and found the original paper, written over 30 years ago. And, wow, great ideas - but they completely got lost in the whisper-citation-down-the-lane effect.

Anyway, good stuff, check it out if you have the chance.


  1. I was at the keynote at GHC last year, and while the whole talk was fabulous, this was the part that stuck with me. Wouldn't it be great if all keynote speakers named three classic papers that influenced their work? Maybe that would help the field start to get a better sense of (and respect for) its history.

  2. Definitely! I think reading the classic papers is so important, and it would be great to know what senior people think are the influential ones.

  3. That caused me a stumble down Memory Lane.

    I think I crossed paths with one of the people mentioned in the article in '91 or '92. She assisted Dr. Steiger with an Algorithms course I was in at the time.