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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Woman of the Week - Barbara Liskov

Posted April 09, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Barbara Liskov is an American computer scientist and one of the first women to be granted a doctorate in computer science in the United States.

Liskov grew up in California as the oldest of four children. She earned her B.S. in mathematics with a minor in physics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1961. She was one of the only women in her classes. Once she earned her B.S., she applied to the graduate mathematics programs at both Berkeley and Princeton – even though Princeton did not accept women at the time.

She was accepted got into Berkeley but instead made the decision to move to Boston and began working at the Mitre Corporation. It was there that she became interested in computers and programming. She worked at Mitre for one year before taking a programming job at Harvard where she worked on language translation.

Source: MIT

After being in the working world for a while, she decided to go back to school. This time, she applied to Berkeley, Stanford and Harvard. She enrolled at Stanford and graduated in 1968 with a computer science doctorate. She was one of the first women do earn this type of degree. Her Ph.D thesis consisted of a computer program playing chess endgames, inspired by her time at the Mitre Corporation.

She chose Stanford and by 1968, she became one of the first women to earn a computer science doctorate from Stanford University. The topic of her Ph.D. thesis was a computer program to play chess endgames.

After earning her Ph.D, she returned to Mitre. She worked as a researcher and created the “Venus Computer,” which supported the construction of complex software. It was compact, inexpensive and had an interactive timesharing system.

After graduating from Stanford, Liskov returned to Mitre to work as research staff. Using an Interdata 3 computer that had the ability to change the instruction set via microcode, she created the “Venus Computer.”. It was tailored to supporting the construction of complex software. The operating system was a small, low-cost and interactive timesharing system used to experiment with how different architectures helped or hindered this process. The Venus system supported 16 teletypes and each user was connected to a virtual machine so that major errors would not compromise the entire system, only the virtual machine for that user.

Two of her most significant projects was the creation of Argus, the first high-level language to support the implementation of distributed programs and to demonstrate the technique of promise pipelining;, and Thor, an object-oriented database system. Along with her colleague Jeannette Wing, she developed a particular definition of subtyping, commonly known as the Liskov substitution principle.

Argus provided object abstractions called “guardians” that encapsulate related procedures. As an experimental language, Argus influenced others developers but was never widely adopted or used for deployed networked applications, according to the website for the A.M. Turing award.

Liskov is currently the Ford Professor of Engineering at MIT. She leads the Programming Methodology Group at MIT, with a current research focus in Byzantine fault tolerance and distributed computing. She became a full professor at MIT in 1980. She served as the Associate Head for Computer Science from 2001 to 2004, and in 2007 was appointed Associate Provost for Faculty Equity. In 2008, MIT named her an Institute Professor, the highest honor awarded to an MIT faculty member.

She has won numerous awards, including the IEEE John von Neumann Medal (2004) and the A. M. Turing Award (2008).

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