Interview Series

Diversity in STEM with Timothy M. Pinkston

Chaired Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Vice Dean at USC's School of Engineering
IEEE Computer Society
Published 08/09/2021
Share this on:

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force presents Diversity in STEM, with Timothy M. Pinkston, Chaired Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Vice Dean in the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Engineering.

We are thrilled to bring you our discussion on his career growth, overcoming challenges, and how volunteering with IEEE Computer Society has given him a global perspective to computing.

Why did you choose your current technical field?

Timothy M. PinkstonI was fortune to be selected as a “High-STEP” student-intern at Bell Labs the summer before my senior year of high school. High-STEP (a Science-Technology-Engineering Program sponsored by Bell Labs at the time) provided the opportunity for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and female high school students to gain exposure to career possibilities in engineering, computer science, and STEM fields more broadly. From this program, I saw how my interests and abilities in math, physics, and science could be applied to solving interesting real-world problems impacting our everyday lives, through computer engineering. Interventions such as this to expand the engineering and computing pipeline had a significant impact on me, early-on. This bespeaks the importance of outreach programs intended to broaden participation of persons from demographic populations underrepresented in STEM fields. Such programs designed to introduce engineering and computer science to youngsters from underserved communities who might otherwise not know about how their interests, aptitudes, and aspirations align with STEM opportunities have been successful in various ways. I’m living testament to this, as are many others. This is why it’s important for high-tech companies and academia—indeed, all of us—to take proactive actions in further broadening the engineering and computing workforce, which is a win-win for everyone. Bill Dally said it well in his remarks during a panel at a recent IEEE-sponsored conference (HPCA’21): “We need to step up, be role models, and get involved with young people in high school and middle school. You can change someone’s life at a young age if you can inspire them to pursue a goal.”

What’s been your greatest challenge and your greatest reward in your professional career?

Timothy M. PinkstonA challenge I face all too often is having to explain, justify, enlighten, or reason about the importance of diversity and inclusion in our field to those of my colleagues who seemingly have fixed mindsets. I find a lack of acknowledgement of this important issue, especially by persons in positions of power (i.e., those who have seats at the table of influence and ultimately are the gatekeepers and change-makers) who say there aren’t any major systemic issues to be addressed, or who don’t see the need for changing and improving culture, or who don’t have the insight or foresight that comes from a growth mindset (as described by Carol Dweck) in understanding how all of us actually benefit from diversity and inclusion—not just those from more vulnerable or marginalized populations—to be a challenge we must overcome in order to scale barriers standing in the way of meaningful and sustained progress being made in our field.

What I find most rewarding, however, is the legacy of students and researchers I’ve had the honor and privilege of mentoring, collaborating with, and helping to develop their careers. As David Patterson said in his remarks during the same panel: “In looking back at your career, what is it that you’ll be most proud of? The number of research papers you put out or how many people you’ve influence, helped, and raised up?” For me, the answer is clear: I’m most proud of the additional lives I’ve touched throughout my career as a researcher-scholar-administrator.

What have you found rewarding about being an IEEE and/or Computer Society member and/or volunteer?

Timothy M. PinkstonLike other IEEE CS members I know, I find it highly rewarding (and consider myself fortunate) to be a contributing member of the global computing community whereby my fervor for scientific inquiry and research discovery, my passion for educating and mentoring, and my zeal for making a significant impact that enriches high scholastic pursuits and enables technological advancements for addressing real societal challenges are realized. I also consider myself privileged to be among those given the special opportunity to play important leadership roles in IEEE CS conferences and workshops, publications and review committees, steering and technical committees, award selection committees, and advisory and executive committees for the benefit of our computing community. It is deeply gratifying for me to develop and contribute as a professional, and to help those more junior or less privileged or advantaged than I in doing the same for their career progression. As an IEEE CS volunteer, I’m able to help shape and improve policies, practices, and actions in our computing field—locally, nationally, and globally—within my own sphere of influence. This I do not take for granted. I encourage others to engage in ways they can be most helpful as well.



Want More News About Careers in Computing? Subscribe to Build Your Career Newsletter Today!



What are the unique qualities or characteristics that you have brought to your career and workplace? (Or in your opinion, what are the unique qualities or characteristics that enable a successful (or productive) career?)

Timothy M. PinkstonI grew up valuing and practicing honesty and integrity, equity and fairness, humility and decency—with a deep sense of ethics and a strong moral compass. These important tenets were instilled in me very early and throughout my upbringing, and they have remained persistently with me throughout my professional life and conduct. Derived from these, my guiding principles in leadership and all other aspects of my work are to foster empowerment and ownership by constituencies and stakeholders while also insisting on accountability; to gain trust through openness and transparency, and through competence and credibility; to be nimble, flexible, efficient, and responsive to changes—which are inevitable, especially with technological advancements—while also being creative and innovative in problem-solving and addressing difficult challenges; and to promote accessibility, opportunity, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I try to extract the best from myself, my team members, and those within the organization(s) of which I am a part. Put succinctly, I strive for excellence in all that I do. These characteristics have served me well in the workplace professionally, but they have also been pillars of success in my personal life, more generally.

5) What advice would you give to someone seeking a mentor or more professional guidance?

Timothy M. PinkstonGetting mentoring advice and professional guidance is important in helping one reach their full potential and achieve their career goals. I believe effective mentoring manifests as an unencumbered interaction and sharing among colleagues who may (and oftentimes) have differing levels of experience in certain areas. From my experience, good mentors characteristically are trusted individuals who assist, support, and advocate for those whom they mentor by providing helpful advice, guidance, and transfer of knowledge in the areas most desired by their mentees. Mentoring can span intellectual, professional, cultural, and/or personal issues. Mentoring can be just as invigorating and uplifting to the mentor as beneficial and nurturing to the mentee.

I advise having a network of mentors approach that consists of traditional senior-to-junior mentoring (e.g., preferably with multiple senior mentors, each of whom can provide separate mentoring advice, possibly in different desired areas) as well as less common peer-to-peer mentoring (e.g., for sharing of common experiences from near contemporaries). Such a diversified yet integrated approach allows for multiple informed perspectives to help guide someone in successfully navigating various issues that might be encountered as she/he/they develop in her/his/their professional career.

About Timothy Mark Pinkston:


Timothy Mark Pinkston is the George Pfleger Chaired Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and he also is a Vice Dean in the University of Southern California’s (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering. At USC, he founded the Superior Multiprocessor Architecture (SMART) Interconnects Group, where he and his colleagues have conducted research in the area of computer systems architecture. His research has focused on deadlock-free adaptive routing, router microarchitecture, and interconnection network design for high-performance and energy-efficient data movement in multicore and multiprocessor computer systems spanning embedded microprocessors, computer servers, and large-scale datacenters and supercomputers. Among his honors, he was recognized early in his career with a Minority Research Initiation Award and a CAREER Award from the (U.S.) National Science Foundation (NSF). He has received many other honors and awards later in his career. He has been serving in many professional leadership roles, including as General Co-chair of the IEEE/ACM International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA’18), Co-Chair of the ACM SIGARCH/SIGMICRO Committee to Aid Reporting on Discrimination and Harassment (CARES), member of the Computing Research Association (CRA) Board of Directors, member of the NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Advisory Committee, and member of the IEEE Computer Society’s Publications Board Executive Committee. In 2009, he was named an IEEE Fellow “for contributions to design and analysis of interconnection networks and routing algorithms.”


Read more interviews from computing thought leaders:
Barbara Liskov | Kathy Land | Elisa Bertino


Set Yourself Apart—Volunteer on a Board or Committee

  • Shape the future of your industry.
  • Become an IEEE Fellow.
  • Lead a technical committee.
  • Get involved with your chapter, section, or region.