Prof. Timothy Roscoe recognized as ACM Fellow
Established in 1947, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the largest scientific association for computer science, distinguishes its members each year since 1993 with the most prestigious member grade, ACM Fellow, for their outstanding accomplishments in computing and information technology. “We recognize these scientists and engineers, creators and builders, theorists and practitioners who are making a difference in our lives. They’re enabling us to listen, learn, calculate, and communicate in ways that underscore the benefits of the digital age”, said ACM President Vinton G. Cerf. In 2013, Timothy Roscoe was elected to the grade of Fellow for his contributions to operating systems and networking research in computing and information technology.
Interview conducted by Jena Bakula, member of the Systems Group
Jena Bakula: Congratulations on this prestigious award. What is the significance for you as an individual researcher in becoming an ACM Fellow?
Timothy Roscoe: It's a great affirmation because it's awarded by a committee of existing ACM Fellows. It's validation from one's fellow researchers across the whole range of computer science, which is a wonderfully diverse field these days. At the same time, it's recognition for past work, which is a motivation to keep working and do even better.
JB: What have been your contributions to operating systems and networking research? Could you give some examples?
TR: Systems is an inherently collaborative field and I've been lucky enough to work with some of the best computer scientists in the field on projects with a large impact.
I was part of the team that built PlanetLab, a globally-shared research test-bed for wide-area distributed services and network architecture which is still in widespread use today, 14 years later.
More recently, I've been helping to build a new research operating system called Barrelfish, which rethinks what an operating system should look like internally in the face of all the new hardware we'll have to deal with in a few years.
JB: In your research, what are your preferred ways of measuring success?
TR: Many professors in my field, including me, measure their own success by both the impact of their group's work, and by the subsequent careers of their students. Obviously, publications matter. But what really validates your work is the effect it has on the world and what your students go on to achieve afterwards.
PlanetLab really changed the research climate in that hundreds of research groups could evaluate ideas at scale without falling back on simulation, making their results much more credible. But it also exposed them to all kinds of new problems associated with running widely-distributed systems for real in the Internet, which made their research much more relevant.
More recently, we've been getting lots of interest from the industry about Barrelfish. I think they are realizing that hardware trends mean that operating system structures will have to change and we're almost the only game in town in that space.
Finally, I've now been a professor at ETH for seven years and it's a great feeling to see one's former students go on to success at other places. For me, that is the ultimate measure of success for a professor.
JB: What will the next step in your career be? New projects? New approaches to your research?
TR: I've always been a software person but I'm gradually moving towards building hardware, or working with someone who really knows how to. We have a challenge right now in that the hardware you can buy is dominated by the need to support existing software designs. This limits the ability of hardware designers to really embrace where physics is inevitably leading. I believe the next big breakthrough in computer systems will need a team of people who understand hardware and operating systems as well as applications, and I'd like to be part of that team.
At the same time, I'm increasingly interested in how the technologies we build - even quite “nuts-and-bolts” things like operating systems - act socially and influence our culture and society. What we computer scientists build has a tremendous impact on society, but as engineers right now we have a pretty limited perspective on what is a deep, fascinating, and urgent question. There aren't yet enough conversations between engineers and the some of the brilliant people who study how society, culture, and politics operate.
ACM will formally recognize Timothy Roscoe and the other 2013 Fellows at the annual awards banquet on 21 June 2014 in San Francisco.