Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



Mike Hinchey, Globally Renowned Researcher and IFIP President

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Mike Hinchey.

Mike HincheyMike Hinchey is Director of Lero - the Irish Software Research Centre, a multi-location national research centre funded by Science Foundation Ireland and with a footprint in all of Ireland's universities. He is also Professor of Software Engineering at University of Limerick.

Hinchey holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science from University of Limerick, a M.Sc. in Computation (Mathematics) from University of Oxford, UK and a PhD in Computer Science from University of Cambridge, UK. He is a Member of Academia Europaea, Fellow of the British Computer Society, Irish Computer Society, Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, Institute of Engineering Technology and Engineers Australia and Engineers Ireland.

Prior to leading Lero, Hinchey was Director of the NASA Software Engineering Laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, MD. Hinchey has been previously full professor or visiting professor in UK, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, USA, Japan and Australia.

He is President Elect of IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing), Vice President of the Irish Computer Society and Vice Chair of IEEE UK and Ireland.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:18: Congratulations on your nomination as President of IFIP. Can you describe IFIP? What is the value of IFIP to government, academia and business?
"....IFIP was founded under the auspices of UNESCO back in 1960 - it is a society of societies in that each member country has a member society in the field of ICT. They are primarily computer or engineering societies and IFIP brings them together in a single form. All of these members go back and give input to their own governments and IFIP puts together policy on a global scale and then the individual members have their feedback on their national scale. We have thirteen technical committees that cover all sorts of areas of ICT and together we do work at publications, journals, conferences, meetings, working groups etc. that contribute to technical advancement. Then the members of the General Assembly (one per country), contribute to policy-making and so on....We have a number of initiatives; at the moment one that is very important is professionalism. We also have contributions in education and we contribute technically and are particularly looking at areas like security, privacy, disaster recovery, etc. These all have global implications....."

:02:32: What are the key projects for IFIP during your presidency and how will you measure success?
"....I am interested in education and particularly in how we can bring more women into ICT....Professionalism (IFIP is a major contributor)....There are things that are going to be hard to measure in the very short term but I think we will be able to see some sort of uptake...."

:03:49: Can you describe your tenure?
"....My involvement will mean going to meet a lot of the computer societies who are members of IFIP and engaging with them. One of the big things that I am planning to do is to try to increase our membership, particularly in places where we are not currently represented (and our new rules and regulations for membership will make that possible)...."

:05:07: Can you describe your journey of continuing enlightenment from an early age to around 18 and some of the milestones?
"....I think growing up I had a pretty ordinary, normal background. I grew up in a small country in a time when the country was not very wealthy. I did have one advantage in that my father was a computer engineer and he ran the systems for air traffic control at Shannon Airport. I got to know the people he worked with and I got to use computers, so I guess I was using computers as a six year old when most people my age at the time didn't even know what a computer was....Wanting to go into computing itself is something that I tossed and turned about for quite a while. It came down to a decision: I was either going to do computer science in university or I was going to do French and I decided to do computer science....How I got into my own particular field was an interesting one. I picked up a book called "The Correctness Problem in Computer Science" and there was a very short first paper in it by Edsger Dijkstra on why correctness must be a mathematical concern....Being someone who really didn't like mathematics in high school, who got into the field and understood why mathematics is so important to computing, I guess that was the epiphany if you like...."

:07:25: How did your life change while you were in university, what were some of the milestones, and what powerful lessons did you learn that continue to shape your vision into the future?
"....I started to look around for Masters programs and found the best one in my field was a Masters in Computation at Oxford. Tommy Hoare, who was one of the luminaries in computer science (and still is), was Head of the department there and I was lucky enough to have him co-supervise my thesis. One of the big milestones was taking on this topic in a world class university with a world class supervisor - somebody who obviously knew the field so well and opened many doors for me in that sense. That was probably the biggest game-changer in my career...."

:09:05: Mike, you support formal methods. What is the value to enterprises?
"....The idea is that software underpins absolutely everything we do....The fact is that software that really does work correctly is vital even in things we don't consider to be safety-critical, so to me software and formal methods for developing software have so much to give to any sort of enterprise...."

:10:21: As past Director of the NASA Software Engineering Laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, can you talk about some of that work, the opportunity and key challenges and some lessons you wish to share?
"....Many people think that at NASA you go in and you have all these amazing things to work with and you have all these super computers and robots and things and yes, there is that. But on the day-to-day basis it's pretty much like any other job, it's normal and it wasn't all exciting but it was a lot of fun and a great time in my life...."

:11:24: What led to your role as founding editor-in-chief of the NASA journal Innovations in Systems and Software Engineering, launched in 2005, and can you provide lessons from this experience?
"....It doesn't sound like a big thing to found a journal, but to found a journal with the NASA name on it required two Acts of Congress. At various points we felt like giving up but we felt it was something worth doing. It has really improved the quality of systems and software engineering within NASA by giving NASA researchers the opportunity to understand what's going on around the world by all sorts of people. It was a big asset to improving the quality of what people were doing within NASA.... "

:12:25: Do you still maintain ties with NASA?
"....I still have a lot of engagement with NASA. We don't have formal ties right now but I'm still working with them. A number of my patent applications that were filed while I worked with NASA are still going through the process so we are still pursuing some of those, so I get to talk to NASA people on a regular basis...."

:13:06: Describe your past academic journey and lesson for each position?
"Ö..I had finished my PhD and been lucky enough to get a Green Card in the US Visa lottery and a colleague asked me to join him at a department in New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was trying to build up the Real-Time computing lab and thought that my formal methods background would be very appropriate for that....Then the Department Chair moved to the University of Nebraska and he had them offer me an Endowed Chair....Then by luck I found myself with the NASA opportunity (NASA was given the opportunity to hire 12 people from outside the civil service and be hired in at the top level of the civil service which is very unusual). I thought 'no way they are going to hire me' and about a week later they came along and offered me the position. I was a fixed term and they extended it a number of times and eventually it couldn't be extended anymore....Fortuitously there was a great opportunity to become co-Director of this Research Center in Ireland which, at the time, was fairly small (about 50 people) but spread across four universities and the opportunity came for me to take up that position. (We've since grown that from about 50 people in four universities to 225 people in eight universities)...."

:15:45: Earlier you mentioned that you had patents pending, can you get into more detail about that and what you hope to achieve from those patents? Are you planning to work in start-ups and entrepreneurship?
"....The patents are in two main areas. One is in automatic co-generation, a new technique for generating code that is provably correct and really builds on my formal methods background....The other area is in autonomous systems, primarily based around swarm-based missions (essentially what we nowadays call drones), but these would fly in space particularly around the asteroid belt so those are being used by NASA in forthcoming missions, but some of the technology could be used in other applications....Who knows, there might be start-ups in the future, but we really haven't looked into it right now...."

:17:38: You talked about your position as Director at the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre (Lero) and how it has expanded considerably; can you detail some notable results from this work?
"....We've done a lot of work with a lot of companies. Ireland is a small country (only about 4 million people), so 225 in our research group is quite substantial. We've worked with probably close to 200 companies..... One of the things that we did do and which did generate a start-up is that we worked with IBM on how we might be able to automate dealing with issues raised in datacenters. So as logs were raised and problems were seen we automate how we could respond to those or at least a huge portion of those. That became a spinout over the last few years and it was sold recently for 68 million dollars...."

:19:33: In your current role and from your perspective, what are the top resources and lessons that you can share with the audience?
"....It's a great opportunity to intersect with so many different areas so it's been great to work with companies, especially here in Ireland. We have a lot of access to multi-nationals because they have smaller operations in Ireland than they might have (for example) in the US, which means that we can talk to the individuals, the managers or to the workers and thatís a great opportunity for us..... It's been fabulous being in IFIP and meeting very distinguished people from all over the world (who are high-ranking in their own member Society in their own country) and we get to meet them on a regular basis and engage with them....In Ireland (being a small country), we have great access to our government and it's quite common to meet our Ministers and be invited to go to the Parliament and to talk with senior figures and senior civil servants...."

:21:12: Is it possible to be specific in terms of the journals, libraries or communities that you belong to? IFIP obviously would be one that you would recommend as a great resource for the broad audience. Are there others that you can specify?
"....I'm a member of IEEE and have been since I was a student. I'm actually the Vice-Chair of IEEE UK and Ireland....I've done a lot of volunteering for IFIP in the past (in the US), so getting to know new people and new personalities here in Ireland and the UK has been a great opportunity....I'm a member of the Irish Computer Society of which I am Vice-President....also a member of Engineers Ireland....a Fellow of the British Computer Society and the Institute of Engineering Technology in the UK...... I do work for the Brazilian Computer Society as Editor-in-Chief of their journal which is published on Open Access...."

:22:38: Can you describe some megatrends and how they will shape the world and our destiny?
"....The prevalence of all this social media and the cloud (bringing things into the cloud) has raised the issue of security and privacy and I think that's going to be a mega issue for the future....The fact that we are dealing with the physical world and society and the interaction of that is going to be one of the megatrends, and within that is going to be this issue of security and privacy...."

:26:17: You mentioned some predictions. How can ICT executives act on your feelings about megatrends?
"....I guess it's a matter of devoting resources - that's where ICT executives could contribute and fund the right kind of work....Executives can determine and prioritize their resources or their use of resources on areas that will develop for everyone...."

:27:00: What things continue to excite you?
"....I'm lucky enough to be able to work and talk with really, really interesting people, I get to work on some really interesting projects, particularly doing things with NASA and exploiting technology that really is at the forefront and is ahead of its time, and I get to travel to great places to meet some really outstanding people...."

:28:38: You have so many different roles, where do you find the time?
"....It's good that there are 28 hours in the day...."

:28:50: You are an amazing executive and you've led so many different projects and organizations and that work is continuing. What makes a great executive?
"....I don't know. I don't consider myself a great executive, I just consider myself as somebody who enjoys what he does and maybe that's part of it - that to be successful in your career or in your role at work that it's important that you enjoy what you do...."

:30:18:  Agility is key today, whether with a start-up or launching a new product or service within a larger enterprise. The start-up mentality is required. What are the key steps for successful start-ups or for enterprises when producing innovations to keep them competitive?
"....I think it is having the right idea and having the passion to sell that right idea....Complete commitment to the idea, whatever happens, no matter how many people tell you that you are wasting your time - to persevere...."

:31:45: What are the key attributes in individual and teams that produces winning products and services?
"....It really is important to have a commitment and to have the right mixture of people and the right mixture of skills. I don't consider myself to be the best manager by any manner or means, but I have people who work with me who really do make up for the skills that I don't have Ė again it's having a winning team...."

:32:58: Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials?
"....I do think that it is absolutely essential that computing is recognized and I think having some sort of certification or accreditation would be a great thing. Maybe not everybody needs to do that, but I think in certain fields where people are writing truly critical software they should be accountable and we should have some way of ensuring that they are well-trained, up-to-date and using the best possible techniques...."

:35:19: How about on the ethical side, what are some of your recommendations in that area?
"....I think accountability is essential and that people have to be accountable for what they do. People do make mistakes and you have to understand this, but if we can demonstrate that we are doing the best we can and we are doing the right thing and we are using the best techniques that we have then that accountability is met and that professionalism is essential...."

:36:17: What other areas particularly related to computing do you feel need to be brought into focus for discussion and policy?
"....I think the ethics and professionalism need to be high up on the list. I think appropriate security and privacy measures need to be brought into the forum, ensuring that people have training in the right areas and understand, for example, the legalities of the area that they work in. Not everybody needs to be a lawyer or an expert in law, but people should at least know the things that apply to themselves...."

:37:15: What are some "impossible" challenges that you were able to master?
"....I've had funding cuts where I had to let people go and there have been lots of issues that probably seemed major at the time, but they all were dealt with somehow. Maybe it's not always necessarily the way we would prefer, but at least we manage to do it. So I don't think there was anything that huge that we couldn't cope and maybe the results were not the best we wanted but we got them...."

:39:26: You have many interests. Can you talk about any that we havenít discussed so far?
"....My hobbies tend to be things that I can do on the move because I travel a lot. I love to read and I collect first edition books. I'm a pretty ordinary, every day type of person...."

:40:39: You choose the topic area. What do you see as some of the top broader challenges facing us today and do you have any proposals on how they can be solved?
"....I don't think anyone has a magic wand that they can wave and get rid of all the problems that we have at the moment, but I think if we all persevere on the individual goals and try to advance society as best we can, I think things will come around well in the end...."

:41:20: From your extensive speaking, travels, and work, can you share some stories (perhaps something amusing, surprising, unexpected or amazing)?
"....That's a very tough one, I might have to come back to you on that....Some funny things and some bad things have happened, but I've been very lucky to meet some very interesting people - some of whom are quite famous and others who are less so, but equally interesting people...."

:42:20: If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....Where is the world going?....What is the next big thing?...."

:44:24: Mike, with your demanding schedule we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.