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An interview with Gary T. Leavens (part 1)

General Information - Blog

rob van den berg.
Publicity chair OOPSLA 2009

OOPSLA is not something that just grows on a tree of conferences. There are a large number of people that put in their free time to organise OOPSLA every year. To give you peek behind the curtains of OOPSLA, I interviewed Gary Leavens, the Program Chair for 2009, on all things OOPSLA: past, present and future. Here is the fist part of that interview with a main focus on the past.


Q: What was your first reaction when you were selected for OOPSLA 2009?

I was very happy and flattered to be selected as the research program committee chair for the 2009. It didn't take me very long to accept the invitation, even though I knew that it would be quite a bit of work during the next two years. (I received the invitation in early 2008.)

Actually, there is a bit of a back story here that your readers might find interesting. I've been done many program committees for many different conferences (including OOPSLA several times) over the course of my 20 year career. After I moved to the University of Central Florida in Orlando from Iowa State University (in Ames) in 2007, I sent e-mails to many different researchers telling them about my move. One of them, Dr. Kathleen Fisher, who is the chair of ACM SIGPLAN, mentioned that she would be in Orlando for the Grace Murray Hopper conference, and I invited her to give a talk at the University of Central Florida, where I had started work. She agreed, and during her visit I mentioned to her that I had been thinking about ways to do more service activities, including becoming more involved at higher levels of service for conferences. This was in October 2007. It wasn't too long after that when I received the invitation to be the program committee chair for OOPSLA 2009 from Shail Arora, who is the general chair of the conference. Since OOPSLA is a SIGPLAN sponsored conference, I'm sure my expression of interest probably had something to do with that. Nevertheless, I was sincere about the offer and very very pleased at the invitation. I consider it a great honor as well as a great responsibility.


Q: Tell me something about your first OOPSLA

OOPSLA was the first major conference that I attended. Unfortunately, I missed the very first OOPSLA (in 1986), and only heard about it from the proceedings that arrived while I was working on my PhD at MIT. I thought it was the most interesting proceedings I had seen and to this day regret that I didn't know about and didn't attend the first conference. It looked to be tremendously exciting. At this time, in the late 1980s, object-oriented programming was new and largely unknown. And specification and verification of object-oriented programs was the subject of my PhD dissertation. So I attended the second OOPSLA conference, in 1987, which was a great experience for me. At the time, at MIT, I was in Barbara Liskov's group, although my thesis was being supervised by one of her former students, then a professor at MIT, William Weihl. Barbara gave her famous invited talk at the 1987 conference, which contains the statement of the famous "Liskov substitutability principle," which was already at the core of my PhD thesis. That conference was also in Orlando, coincidentally. At the conference I met (thanks in part to Barbara Liskov's introductions) a number of people who were, to me, famous, including Bertrand Meyer, Mary Shaw, and David Ungar.

Q: What was your best and worst OOPSLA experience?

Probably my best experiences have been attending the conference when I have had an accepted paper. OOPSLA has this great tradition of giving out ribbons to people that are participating in various ways at the conference. Walking around with the blue ribbon saying that I had a paper at the conference has always been a fun experience, as people are usually eager to talk with me. In 2000 I was really pleased to have two papers accepted in the conference, both with PhD students who have now finished from Iowa State University: Curtis Clifton and Clyde Ruby. I also had a poster at that year's conference. So that was a great year for me and my students.

The paper with Curtis Clifton was also co-authored by Craig Chambers and Todd Millstein. It's perhaps my most famous OOPSLA paper, on MultiJava. A funny story about that. I always considered my best known work be about behavioral subtyping. But one year in the hallway at a conference, a professor was introducing me to one of his students, and the student asked what work I did. I started talking about behavioral subtyping, but I could see that the student was not recognizing any of that work. Then his professor mentioned that I was one of the co-authors of the MultiJava paper. At the mention of MultiJava the students eyes lit up: "Ah, MultiJava!" he said.

Another interesting experience was in 1998, when I had a paper with Todd Millstein. This paper was written before I ever met Todd in person. The whole thing was done over the Internet. We actually met at the conference that year and discussed the talk during our first meeting. An interesting if slightly strange experience.

I can't really think of any terrible experiences associated with OOPSLA, unless one counts various paper rejections. :-) Being at the conference and not finding anyone to go to dinner with is also not wonderful, but that rarely happens. Usually you can sit in the lobby of the hotel and just wait for someone you know to walk by.

To be continued...

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