EE380 Computer Systems Colloquium: Programming Should Be More Than Coding

Programming Should Be More Than Coding
Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 4:15pm to 5:30pm
Gates B03
Leslie Lamport (Microsoft Research)
Abstract / Description: 

Writing a program involves three tasks:

  1. Deciding what the program should do.
  2. Deciding how the program should do it.
  3. Coding: Implementing these decisions in code.

Too often, all three are combined into the process of coding. This talk explains why they should be separated, and discusses how to perform the first two.


Dr. Lamport received a doctorate in mathematics from Brandeis University, with a dissertation on singularities in analytic partial differential equations. This, together with a complete lack of education in computer science, prepared him for a career as a computer scientist at Massachusetts Computer Associates, SRI, Digital, and Compaq. He claims that it is through no fault of his that of those four corporations, only the one that was supposed to be non-profit still exists. He joined Microsoft in 2001, but that company has not yet succumbed.
Dr. Lamport's initial research in concurrent algorithms made him well-known as the author of LaTeX, a document formatting system for the ever-diminishing class of people who write formulas instead of drawing pictures. He is also known for writing, "A distributed system is one in which the failure of a computer you didn't even know existed can render your own computer unusable," which established him as an expert on distributed systems. His interest in Mediterranean history, including research on Byzantine generals and the mythical Greek island of Paxos, led to his receiving five honorary doctorates from European universities, and to the IEEE sending him to Italy to receive its 2004 Piore Award and to Quebec to receive its 2008 von Neumann medal. However, he has always returned to his home in California. This display of patriotism was rewarded with membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More recently, Dr. Lamport has been annoying computer scientists and engineers by urging them to understand an algorithm or system before implementing it, and scaring them by saying they should use mathematics. In an attempt to get him to talk about other things, the ACM gave him the 2013 Turing Award.