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Dr. Maria Klawe: Pioneering World-Renowned Computer Scientist and Executive Leader, shares her past to current career years — Part 2

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Dr. Maria Klawe.

Dr. Maria KlaweHarvey Mudd College is led by Maria Klawe, HMC's fifth president who began her tenure in 2006. A renowned computer scientist and scholar, President Klawe is the first woman to lead the college since its founding in 1955. Prior to joining HMC, she served as Dean of Engineering and Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University. During her time at Princeton, Maria led the School of Engineering and Applied Science through a strategic planning exercise that created an exciting and widely embraced vision for the school. At Harvey Mudd College, she led a similarly ambitious strategic planning initiative, "HMC 2020: Envisioning the Future."

Maria joined Princeton from the University of British Columbia where she served as Dean of Science from 1998 to 2002, Vice President of Student and Academic Services from 1995 to 1998 and head of the Department of Computer Science from 1988 to 1995. Prior to UBC, Maria spent eight years with IBM Research in California, and two years at the University of Toronto. She received her Ph.D. (1977) and B.Sc. (1973) in Mathematics from the University of Alberta.

Maria has made significant research contributions in several areas of mathematics and computer science including functional analysis, discrete mathematics, theoretical computer science, human-computer interaction, gender issues in information technology, and interactive-multimedia for mathematics education. Her current research focuses on discrete mathematics.

Maria is a past President of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) in New York, past chair of the Board of Trustees of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto, and a past trustee of the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics in Los Angeles. Maria has held leadership positions with the American Mathematical Society, the Computing Research Association, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and the Canadian Mathematical Society.

Maria is one of the 10 members of the board of Microsoft Corporation, a board member of Broadcom Corporation and the nonprofit Math for America, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a trustee for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, and a member of both the Stanford Engineering Advisory Council and the Advisory Council for the Computer Science Teachers Association. She was elected as a fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery in 1996 and as a founding fellow of the Canadian Information Processing Society in 2006. Other awards include Vancouver YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Science and Technology (1997), Wired Woman Pioneer (2001), Canadian New Media Educator of the Year (2001), BC Science Council Champion of the Year (2001), University of Alberta Distinguished Alumna (2003), Nico Habermann Award (2004), and honorary doctorates from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (2011), the University of British Columbia (2010), Mount Saint Vincent University (2009), Acadia University (2006), Dalhousie University (2005), Queen's University (2004), the University of Waterloo (2003) and Ryerson University (2001).

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

[Click here to listen to Part 1 of this interview: Dr. Maria Klawe: Pioneering World-Renowned Computer Scientist and Executive Leader, shares her past to current career years — Part 1]

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:36: Maria, you are an icon in so many domains where your innovations and accomplishments laid foundations in science, education, leadership, innovation, and research. This is the last in an interview series where we explored your considerable history from your early years and into your professional life of notable distinction, significant outstanding contributions in a number of fields including societal causes. Thank you for sharing your considerable expertise, deep accumulated insights and wisdom with our audience. .
".....It's my pleasure Stephen, it's always a joy to talk with you...."

  We've done a remarkable series of interviews detailing your past history. We only got half way through the interview in Dr. Maria Klawe: Pioneering World-Renowned Computer Scientist and Executive Leader Part 1, where Dr. Klawe shares her past to current career years). The purpose of this session here today is to complete the interview.

:02:37: I'm going to continue now with that journey with this next question. Maria, can you further describe those years and several pivotal moments that shaped you?
"....I love to work with the community and create something new that wasn't there beforehand. If you build something with a set of values that faculty actually own themselves it will last because they will tend to hire people who have similar values to that so it will last long past the people who built it....Another thing is the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to find solutions and how necessary it is that we educate people who really can collaborate across disciplines....Something that has become much more apparent to me as I get older is that it all works a lot better if you pick your day job to be something that helps you move forward with your life goals...."

:08:02: You have accomplished so much — what sort of items do you have in your 'bucket list' of life goals?
"....The overall life goal is to fundamentally change the culture of science and engineering so that it becomes more supportive of people who are not the norm...."

:09:48: Maria talks about her other industry contributions after her time with IBM and what motivated her during this period.
"....It was interesting to see the interplay between the tech culture in companies and what it means for the female employees...."

:21:47: Earlier you talked about your entrepreneurial career and of course sitting on the boards of two Fortune companies. Is there anything else you would like to add about your entrepreneurial career - the good/bad/controversial? For example while you were on the board of Silicon Chalk you learned many things, and you were on the board of Brightside and learned other things about what to do and what not to do. Can you share any of that?
"....I had to learn to use things other than rational argument to get things to happen because in the view of some of the other board members I was just a nuisance....I run into this over and over again in my life. People meet you and think that all of my opinions are based solely on my academic experiences so they are not going to have any validity in the business world...."

:25:59: What enduring lessons shape you today from your entrepreneurial work?
"....Timing really matters....If you're going to do something that is going to have a really big impact, you are probably going to start working on it well before you really know what the timing is going to be, so there's this big issue of luck as well....Pick the people you work with very carefully. It's one of the things I think very hard about when I take on a responsibility, whether it's on a board or deciding to do a joint project with a group or whatever, make sure it's a set of people that you really share your values with...."

:28:01: Do you have any additional entrepreneurial aspirations for the future?
"....I enjoy collaborating with startups and I have one amazing initiative that I'm doing with a 12 person startup in Palo Alto. It's a startup called Piazza....I'm really enjoying the opportunity not to do my own startup, but to be helping out other startups. I also have a good relationship with a non-profit startup called Reasoning Mind that I probably mentioned before, that's doing a web-based approach to math education and I love working with them as well. It's fun to be in a place where you can actually help people do things...."

:38:21: What are five lessons you want to pass on in regards to innovation?
"....Pick an important problem....Build a diverse team....Persist and work hard....Regularly re-evaluate your plan and strategy and change when you have to....Ask for help when you need it...."

:43:27: Maria describes her involvement with the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and her various roles.
"....I really love the ACM, it's a great organization. Obviously it is a huge sponsor and disseminator of research in terms of what it does with conferences and with journals. It has had great people as president, on the council and great staff. I'm really proud of it as an organization to work with...."

:49:03: Maria talks about her history with the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) and shares why is this work is important.
"....I was on the board for 14 years; I went off a little more than a year ago partly because I'm a big believer that people should rotate off boards, and partly because Anita Borg Institute is doing incredibly well. As much as I love everything ABI does I felt like they didn't absolutely need me, and I think they have become the world's organization that focuses on the need to have more diverse teams (including gender diverse), and on the fact there are incredible career opportunities for everyone in IT...."

:59:59: In your involvement with the Anita Borg Institute in other interviews you also talked about being involved with the Grace Hopper conference (keynoting and bringing teams there, etc). Can you talk about other parts of your involvement with the Grace Hopper conference and why does this work matter?
"....It's now run annually and I've attended every single one except for one....It's become a major place where companies recruit for interns and for regular positions. It's a complete mix of kinds of professional development....mentoring....I think of it as personifying Anita's approach to life: work on hard things, make a difference, make sure you have fun while you're doing it...."

:01:03:08: Can you share some of the keynotes that have occurred there?
"....the Imposter Panel...."

:01:05:45: I guess that brings up the question then, where have you felt like an imposter and how did you manage it?
"....What I realized over time is that whenever I start something new....I just think I'm going to be a total failure at it. Of course the most important thing is to not stop yourself from doing things just because you think you are going to be a total failure, and the important thing is to just do it...."

:01:09:30: You talked about the work you've done with regards to mathematics and your contributions there and also mathematical societies and mathematical research. Can you share your experiences and lessons with the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) in Berkeley?
"....MSRI is the premiere one of all of the mathematical institutes and the model has established the idea of this kind of institute. It runs one or two themes a year and brings in a number of senior people as well as a number of post-docs, as well as workshops around those themes....It's one of those examples where I love the people on the board, I love what the institute does. It's really fun being part of that community and it's an opportunity to have my foot in the mathematic research community which I also really enjoy...."

:01:13:49: What lessons can you share from your leadership position with the American Mathematical Society (AMS)?
"....The thing I learned from being a trustee for five years was that it was a ton of work, but it really gave me an education of how professional societies operate...."

:01:16:46: What lessons can you share from your leadership position with the Computing Research Association?
"....Nancy Leveson and I proposed to the CRA board that we start a committee on the status of women in computing that would really try to look at what the issues were that affected the low participation of women in computing research careers. The board agreed, so the next year (1991) we had the first year of CRA-W....It's been a very active and very successful group and it has won one of the presidential mentoring awards a couple of years ago....One of the things I feel great about it is I was co-chair for three years, helped get it started and then it has run on its own since then...."

:01:24:22: You are also a contributor to the nonprofit Math for America. Can you describe what your role is and what you hope to achieve?
"....I love Math for America...It's all about the teachers....Instead of complaining about teachers, it's all about giving teachers the kind of resources and the kind of support that they need to actually be successful...."

:01:31:26: When we look at your history you have won so many awards and you've been recognized by so many different groups. Can you talk about some of those awards and your experiences with them?
"....I spend a lot of time these days nominating people for awards....I think it's incredibly important to recognize people who have made a difference in the world so it gives me a lot of pleasure to write nomination letters and to support nominations in various kinds of ways. I think it highlights great work, and people who do great work aren't doing it for the recognition obviously because it typically takes a decade of hard work before anyone's going to recognize it. But I think it makes a lot of sense to draw attention to it because I think it inspires others to do great work...."

:01:37:26: You are so involved in societal impact initiatives and we talked about some of them here. Are there others that you can describe that we haven't discussed?
"....The Aphasia Project ran for about 8 years with most of that to be in the first 5 years....What we really discovered, but I don't think was fully recognized before we started working on it, is that it was very hard to design a system that was going to work for random people because with Aphasia (with its many cognitive disabilities), every individual is different....The other thing we realized is while there is lots of funding for children with speech defects or any kind of speech issues, there is no funding for adults....So it ended up being a little like Silicon Chalk, a research project that was ahead of its time, but I'm optimistic that somebody will manage to do something — one device is so much less expensive...."

:01:42:51: Who are your mentors today and how do they influence you?
"....The number one mentor in my life is my husband, the love of my life, collaborator and all kinds of things — he's the person I talk to about pretty much everything. But I'm also fortunate to have a number of tech leaders who are either slightly older than me or slightly younger than me (or sometimes quite a bit younger), both male and female who I talk to about issues a lot....The approach that I tend to take is to get people with very different personalities and different viewpoints and who know me in different ways and get them to provide advice, perspective and it works really well....I also get a lot of advice from my children...."

:01:47:33: Maria, I'm going to roll up a series of questions into one final question. You can choose how you want to answer this. You are always working on hard questions and challenges — what are they today and into the future? Or from mid-career to the present, what were/are the areas of controversy? And finally, if you were conducting this interview, what 3 questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers? You can pick among those three and determine how you want to answer them.
"....I'd say that the things that I do are controversial because I'm constantly pushing for change. Sometimes you do have to push, but the more you can get where people feel that they are making the change because they want to make the change, the more likely the change will succeed and last....If I were conducting the interview what 3 questions would I ask?....Why do I love Harvey Mudd College so much?.....What would I change in my career choices, if anything?....Where is my most favorite place in the world?...."

:01:54:07: Maria, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.

  This is the final interview in an interview series where we explored Maria's considerable history from her early years and into her professional life of notable distinction, significant outstanding contributions in a number of fields including societal causes.

In future interviews, we will continue to follow Maria's outstanding work impacting business, industry, governments, education, and society.


Music by Sunny Smith Productions and Shaun O'Leary