CS Department Celebrates Its First 50 Years
In October, CS @ ILLINOIS commemorated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The week-long event brought together some of the department’s most distinguished alumni, its faculty and students, and university dignitaries for a grand celebration that showcased the reach and impact our department has had on the computer science field.
The opening event on Monday, October 20, featured a fireside chat with Max Levchin (BS CS ’97), who reminiscence about his days as PayPal co-founder and discussed the new ventures he is currently engaged in.
On Thursday, October 23, the department joined with Women in Computer Science (WCS) to welcome back alumna Parisa Tabriz (BS CS ’05, MS ‘07), who currently leads the security team that protects the Chrome browser. Tabriz has the distinction of having her business cards state her official titles as “Security Princess.”
Tabriz provided the keynote address to the annual WCS Alumni and Student Banquet. In her talk, she discussed the importance of security to the Internet and the people and businesses that depend on it. She gave some general descriptions of how hackers with either good or bad intent look at problems of vulnerability in computer systems and the Internet.
The anniversary celebration culminated on Friday, October 24, as some of the department’s most accomplished and influential alumni spoke about their experiences in industry and academia. In addition, four former department heads returned to join current CS Head Rob A. Rutenbar in a panel discussion and give first-hand insight into the history of the department over the last several decades.
Thomas M. Siebel (MS CS ’85) opened the day with the first keynote. In it he discussed how he had conceived and developed businesses in his keynote address. Siebel entered the relational database business when it was a $5 million market and built Siebel Systems into a $5.8 billion company. His current venture, C3 Energy, is helping the Smart Grid reach its full promise while revolutionizing the energy business using data. (Watch a recording of this keynote.)
In the second keynote of the day, Jeff Holden (BS CS '90, MS '91) gave an overview of his career, beginning with his stint with a Wall Street firm, where his manager was Jeff Bezos. In 1997, Holden joined Bezos at his startup, Amazon, as engineer number nine, learning about supply chain and inventory management. Later, Holden was the force behind Amazon Prime, the company’s loyalty program. After nine years at Amazon, Holden launched his own startup, Pelago, which was sold to Groupon. Today, he is at Uber, where he is working to bring this ride sharing app and service to a larger portion of the country. (Watch a recording of this keynote.)
After lunch, Chris Lattner (MS CS ’02, PhD ’05), who was the main designer at Illinois of the compiler infrastructure LLVM, spoke about this tool’s development, as well as the Clang compiler. He discussed how compilers and software engineering have developed during the last decade. Lattner has worked at Apple since 2005, where he currently works on the Swift programming language. (Per the speaker's request, this keynote was not recorded.)
Linda Mills (MS CS ’73), corporate vice president of operations at Northrop Grumman at Northrup Grumman gave the final keynote of the day. She spoke about the need in the technology field for more women and other underrepresented populations. The U.S. has been a leader in innovation throughout the era of the computer, but that leading role has been eroding over recent years. Educating underrepresented populations in STEM fields could be a key to bringing the U.S. back to prominence and could ensure the future of the technology field in the United States. (Watch a recording of this keynote.)
In the first panel, “CS @ ILLINOIS: Past and Present,” current CS Department Head Rob A. Rutenbar joined former heads C. William Gear, Daniel Read, Michael Heath, and Marc Snir to discuss the history of the department from the perspective of the person who led the department. It was informative and instructive to learn how all the heads had experienced similar difficulties in running the department. Hiring faculty was a regular issue that they had to deal with. Many of the former faculty members noted that space for offices and classrooms was long an in issue that they needed to deal with. Though the Siebel Center opening provided relief for that issue, the current growing popularity of CS as a major has brought this issue back. (Watch a recording of this panel discussion.)
A panel on “Entrepreneurship @ ILLINOIS” brought together faculty and alumni entrepreneurs. Led by Alan Braverman, the panel discussed the ups and downs faced by someone trying to develop a startup company. Panelists included Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber; Marcin Kleczynski, founder and chief executive officer at Malwarebytes; Steve LaValle, CS @ ILLINOIS professor and principal scientist at Occulus VR; Mark Tebbe, operating executive at Lake Capital; and Zao Yang, chief executive officer at LaunchHub, Inc. (Watch a recording of this panel discussion.)
The day ended with a look at “The Future of Computer Science.” CS Professor Klara Nahrstedt and several CS alumni who are educators—Daniel Atkins, Jason Cong, Mary Jane Irwin, Der-Tsai Lee, and Linda Petzold—discussed the profession of teaching computer science. (Watch a recording of this panel discussion.)
Other Celebration Events
The 50th anniversary celebration ended with the CS Awards Ceremony, where several alumni and former department heads were recognized for their distinguished achievements in the computer science field and for service to the department.
Der-Tsai Lee was also recognized by the university at the Homecoming game on October 25 as one three Comeback Guests, a recognition for particularly distinguished alumni of the University of Illinois who are invited by the Alumni Association.