Meet Computer Pioneer Award Winner Laura Haas: How She Went From IBM to Dean at University of Massachusetts
By Lori Cameron

After she was named winner of the 2019 IEEE Computer Society’s Computer Pioneer Award, Laura Haas revealed hard-earned lessons during her extraordinary career that continues to unfold after four decades, ascending her to the summits of industry and academia.

On the heels of a 35-year career with IBM, Haas became dean of computer science at the University of Massachusetts in August 2017. At the time of her retirement from IBM, she was director of IBM Research’s Accelerated Discovery Lab (2011-2017), after serving as director of computer science at IBM’s Almaden Research Center (2005-2011).

The Computer Society is honoring Haas “for pioneering innovations in the architecture of federated databases and in the integration of data from multiple, heterogeneous sources.”

Here’s what she had to share.Laura Haas

Computer Society: Having won the Computer Pioneer Award, which of your many accomplishments have brought you the most satisfaction?

Haas: Technically, my work on Clio.  Clio was a tool for schema mapping — it made it easy to say how you wanted to transform data from one representation to another, and then generated the code for the transformation.  It was based on solid theoretical principles (in fact, it started a whole subfield of research in database theory) and was a great tool — easy to use and yet powerful.

But I also have received a lot of satisfaction from my many leadership roles at IBM; among others, building the powerhouse database research team, helping to launch IBM’s information integration business, and, perhaps most fun, enabling a set of really exploratory research programs across IBM’s worldwide research labs.  Finally, watching many of my mentees, summer interns and postdocs go on to brilliant careers in academia and industry has been a great joy.

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Computer Society: After a long, successful career with IBM, you have now taken a position in academia. What have been the biggest challenges with the transition?

Haas: I tend not to dwell on challenges — I’m more likely to see possibilities.  That said, it took me six months to start to feel comfortable with the vocabulary — there are more acronyms that universities deal with than even in IBM!  Beyond that, it’s really been a great transition.  I’m learning new things all the time, meeting new people, thinking about new issues.  Computer science departments and colleges face a lot of challenges, of course — but ours are not unique, and I have great faculty, staff, and students to help address them.

Computer Society: What have been the biggest rewards?

Haas: Being surrounded by brilliant faculty and excited students is wonderful.  Both help keep you on your toes.  And both inspire with their passion and energy. I feel 10 years younger, at least!

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Computer Society: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Haas: “Just keep walking, one step at a time”—advice from my older son, when I couldn’t see how to accomplish a major goal.  He was right: sometimes you just have to start and keep going and trust that you will figure it out. How did he get so wise?


 

About Lori Cameron

Lori Cameron is Senior Writer for IEEE Computer Society publications and digital media platforms with over 20 years extensive technical writing experience. She is a part-time English professor and winner of two 2018 LA Press Club Awards. Contact her at l.cameron@computer.org. Follow her on LinkedIn.