Illinois CS Alumni Awards Recipients Talk Chicago, Teamwork, and Procrastination
Illinois Computer Science graduates being honored during October’s Alumni Awards celebration spent more than an hour on October 19 talking about their own experiences and answering student questions. The panel discussion, moderated by Chair of the Association for Computing Machinery Caren Zeng, touched on, among other things, procrastination, teamwork, and whether it’s best to start a career in Chicago or elsewhere (spoiler: there is no single right answer).
Illinois Computer Science Alumni Awards
Thirteen distinguished Illinois Computer Science alumni were recognized for their professional, technical, educational, or service contributions during the department’s annual Alumni Awards Ceremony and Banquet.
The list of awards and honorees included (for more information on each, see our earlier story):
Distinguished Achievement Alumni Award, Douglas MacGregor (MS CS ’80).
Early Career Achievement Alumni Award, Vilas Dhar (BS ’04, along with a BS Bioengineering ’04).
Distinguished Educator Alumni Awards, Professor Ron K. Cytron, (MS CS ’82, PhD CS ’84), Professor Won Kim (PhD CS ’80), and University of Hawai’i President David Lassner (BA Economics ’76, MS CS ’81).
Early Career Educator Alumni Awards, Associate Professor Eric Gilbert (BS Math and CS ’01, PhD CS ’10) and Associate Professor Ron. K. Cytron (MS CS ’04, PhD CS ’09).
Distinguished Service Alumni Award, Ross Erlebacher (BS CS ’88, MS CS ’89).
Distinguished Achievement Memorial Award, Professor Gene Gene Golub (BS Math '53, MA Stats '54, PhD Math '59).
Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award, Associate Professor Craig Zilles.
C.W. Gear Outstanding Junior
Faculty Award, Assistant Professor Ranjitha Kumar.
David J. Kuck Outstanding Thesis Awards, Assistant Professor Matthew Sinclair (PhD CS ’17) and Dimitrios Skarlatos
(MS CS ’16).
Members of the panel included Douglas MacGregor (MS CS ’80, who is building a cybersecurity program as an adjunct professor at Western State Colorado University); Vilas Dhar (BS ’04, along with a BS Bioengineering ’04, now an investor, entrepreneur, and lawyer); Professor Ron K. Cytron (MS CS ’82, PhD CS ’84, associate chair of Computer Science & Engineering at Washington University); Professor Won Kim (PhD CS ’80, a distinguished professor in the Department of Software at Gachon University in Seongnam, Korea); David Lassner (BA Economics ’76, MS CS ’81, president of the University of Hawai’i); Associate Professor Eric Gilbert (BS Math and CS ’01, PhD CS ’10, John Derby Evans Associate Professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Information); Associate Professor Karthik Pattabiraman (MS CS ’04, PhD CS ’09, University of British Columbia); Ross Erlebacher (BS CS ’88, MS CS ’89, a senior director with Cognizant); and Dimitrios Skarlatos (MS CS ’16, currently a PhD student at Illinois CS).
Rita Patel Jackson (BS Math and CS, ’88, head of global marketing for GE Healthcare’s Healthcare Analytics) also joined the panel. She delivered the keynote address at the previous night’s Women in Computer Science Alumni-Student Dinner.
Some of the highlights from the panel:
HOW VIABLE IS CHICAGO AS A PLACE TO BEGIN A TECH CAREER?
ERLEBACHER (who lives and works in the Chicago area): “I think the city’s committed to doing more. Many of the universities – Illinois, Northwestern, (the University of) Chicago – come help build Chicago. I’d say it’s definitely on the upswing.”
GILBERT: “I’m from Chicago, I think Chicago’s great. … I think for most of my career, I’ve felt the inexorable pull of the Bay Area. And I feel like that’s changing. So in Ann Arbor where I (live), you saw Duo Security get (started), stay there, exit, and continue to stay there. That was unthinkable 10 years ago.”
MACGREGOR: “I guess my job today is to be the contrarian. … The bigger question’s not where you’re going to go, but what you’re going to be doing through the first 10 years of your career. Work your butt off. The idea that you can just go in and spend eight hours and ‘I’m balanced and I’m more productive’ is total baloney.
“Go wherever that best opportunity is. And then when you get into your mid-30s and you want to have a family, you want more balance, you want to spend time with kids, that’s great. But you’ve got your career foundation built.”
LASSNER: “You can do great work anywhere,” citing the example of University of Hawaii Emeritus Professor Norman Abrahamson, who led the development of the ALOHAnet, the first wireless packet network, after beginning his career at Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley.
“He decided he wanted to move to Hawaii because he wanted to surf more, joined the Electrical Engineering Department, and invented the ALOHAnet.”
Alumni Awards Week
In addition to the panel and dinner and awards ceremony, honorees and students enjoyed a keynote address by Mark Tebbe (BS CS '83). (Watch the video.) He is chairman of ChicagoNEXT at World Business Chicago and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
As part of the awards weekend, the annual Women in Computer Science Alumni-Student Dinner was also held, including a keynote address by Rita Patel Jackson (BS Math and CS, ’88). (Watch the video.) She is the head of global marketing for GE Healthcare’s Healthcare Analytics organization.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST METHOD FOR AVOIDING PROCRASTINATION?
CYTRON: “You want a healthy balance in life, right? My son, who is now 20 years old, would get up from dinner, go play the piano, go play the ukulele, go play ‘Fortnite’ for a while. So the problem is you do that indefinitely to the effect of never getting your work done. The goal in life is, what you want to do and have to do become the same thing eventually.”
ERLEBACHER: “Usually the things that I procrastinate on were the things that were too big, they were daunting. So my suggestion is find a way to break it down into bits so you can have that satisfaction of, ‘Oh, step one of five, I’ve completed step one.’ Just break it down into smaller problems. That’s what we teach in computer science, right?”
PATEL JACKSON: “Sometimes (procrastination is) OK. I know how long physically, mentally it’s going to take me to get things done, and I work well under pressure. And not everybody does. … So if you work good under pressure and you can get it done, it’s good quality work, have at it.”
WHAT IS THE KEY TO PRODUCTIVE AND HAPPY TEAMWORK?
GILBERT: “I think it’s a lot of psychology, actually. Go south of Green Street, take a psychology class.
“You have to have a shared goal, you have to buy into the goal, you have to have trust with the people who are working that you’re going to have their back – that if I need help you’ll pitch in and help me, but it’s going to be reciprocal.”
DHAR: “I had an internship when I was a CS student here. I was pretty young, I think it was my first job ever. So I had an assignment and one day, I worked until around 6:30 or so, and most of the people had left. I decided ‘OK, I’m going to go home now.’
“I walked back in the next morning and I had one of those moments that defined the rest of my career, where the person who was supervising me asked me to come in and we sat down. He said ‘Is this thing done yet?’ I said ‘No, I’m going to do it today.’ He said, ‘Listen, you didn’t get your thing done, so nobody else on the team was able to do their work. Now they’re waiting for you.’
“And I didn’t go home before 9 p.m. one more night that summer. But more to the point, what happens on teams is you let people own their work. If you really think about them as the owners, the people who make the team succeed, then you don’t have to manage anybody. You let people manage themselves and everybody comes together and gets something done.”