Barbara Liskov

Current Position: Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Barbara Liskov
Highlight Barbara was the first woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. from a computer science department.
December 4, 2005Her job: Computer Engineer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I am a professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). My research and teaching are focused on how to make better software. Software has now become an essential part of many things we do, from interacting with the bank, to electronic commerce, and it is critical that the software behave properly.
Why did you choose engineering? I didn't have a plan for where I was going; instead I reacted to obstacles and opportunities. I believe that some of this was due to being a woman. When I was young, it was uncommon for women to think about having a career. The effect on me was that I just focused on doing work that was interesting but expected to stop working when I had a family. I got into research in software systems and I realized that I was really committed to my work and would not give it up. Later when my husband and I had a family, I continued to work full time.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? B.S. in mathematics from University of California at Berkley Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford.
What do you like best about being an engineer? I find a career in engineering to be very satisfying. I like making things work. I also like finding solutions to problems that are both practical and elegant. And, I like working with a team of people; engineering involves lots of team work. I particularly like working with my students on our research projects.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices? I believe that I had a great deal of support from both my parents. This support took the form of encouragement for excelling academically, including excelling in math and science. I was never told that "certain things shouldn't be done by women." I think this "ok" enabled me to follow my interest in math and science rather than settling on a more conventional direction.