Focus on Digital Traces Leads to Endowed Position for UT’s Mockus

Audris MockusAudris Mockus, whose research focuses on analyzing programming steps leading to problems in computer software—known as digital archaeology—has been named the new Harlan Mills Chair of Software Engineering at UT.

The position began with a $1 million endowment from telecommunications giant Ericsson in 1998, made in the hopes of furthering research into software engineering.

“Moving from industry into academia has allowed me to focus on broadening the impact of digital archaeology beyond the research community or a single company,” said Mockus, who joins the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Avaya Labs.

“Beyond just the educational impact, this provides a potential for broader collaborations with multiple industry partners, pursuing longer-term research goals, and thus the ability to have both a larger and a longer-term reach.”

Mockus develops ways of reconstructing what programmers actually do when they write software—whether intentionally or not—using digital traces left behind by programming tools. That analysis helps Mockus determine where things went astray and gain insight into how certain programming accidents could be avoided in the future.

By studying developer behavior, he also can suggest ways to maximize their programming output and the quality of resulting software.

Mockus plans to turn those concepts into courses he will teach.

“In particular, I perceive a great need for graduates who have skills to analyze nontraditional data that is a byproduct of people using computers for work and play,” said Mockus. “In fact, I started teaching a master’s-level course on the subject this fall and I plan to introduce additional courses on the subject next year.”

Mills, for whom the award is named, was a pioneering mathematician and software engineer. He helped redefine how software development teams should be organized and showed how mathematics can be used to ensure error-free software, both of which are now ideas considered industry standards.

Though he never worked at UT, Mills was a close colleague of longtime UT professor Jesse Poore, who established the Harlan D. Mills scholarship fund upon Mills’s death in 1996. The Harlan D. and Luella Mills Scholarship in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science still bears his name.

Ericsson, recognizing the contributions of both to software engineering, made Poore the inaugural Harlan Mills Chair in 1998, a position he held until his death in 2012.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)