Aws Albarghouthi joins renowned programming languages group

Assistant professor Aws Albarghouthi

While some newcomers to Madison might worry about the city’s famously chilly winters, Aws Albarghouthi, who arrived in January as an assistant professor of computer sciences, is not fazed.  Not only did Albarghouthi move here from Canada, “Madison has 400 more hours of sunshine each year than Toronto.  I checked!” he says with a laugh.

Albarghouthi, who earned his Ph.D. in computer sciences at the University of Toronto, joins UW-Madison’s well-respected programming languages area.  Though he hadn’t visited Madison before interviewing, he knew its reputation.  “The programming languages group is very well known in the field.  Wisconsin was definitely on my radar.”

Department chair Mark Hill notes that Albarghouthi’s hire bolsters an already strong area.  Says Hill, "As society depends more on software, software failures have greater consequences.  Fortunately, Aws is working on making software more robust by finding violations of many 'safety' properties… We are happy to see more of this important work at Wisconsin."

Albarghouthi’s interest in computers dates back to childhood, when his father, an electrical engineer, first purchased a home computer.  He loved playing with the computer and went on to earn an undergraduate degree in software engineering from Ontario’s McMaster University.  Graduate school drew him deeper into the world of software verification and program analysis techniques.

In his brief time on campus, Albarghouthi—whose first name rhymes with “house”—has already enjoyed the collegiality within the department and the way different research areas intersect.

“It’s unusual to have such a large presence in computer architecture, and it’s a unique opportunity to do CS that is very tied to hardware, especially now that computing infrastructure is shifting to multicore and cloud computing,” he says.  “The computer architects understand this hardware very well, and as programming languages people, we can collaborate with them closely, to make it easier for people to program such things.”

During graduate school, Albarghouthi deepened his skills by doing internships on three continents with Microsoft Research:  Bangalore, India; Redmond, Washington; and Cambridge, England.  As Albarghouthi told the Programming Languages Enthusiast blog, "To the best of my knowledge, I am the first to complete the coveted MSR hat trick!"

His current research focuses largely on program analysis.  “It’s a very difficult problem in computer science,” he says.  “Most of my focus and the focus of the [programming languages] community at large is to find bugs—or, conversely, to prove that there are no bugs, that a program is correct.  Tools developed for those purposes can be used in other avenues as well, not just for proving programs correct, such as making programming a much easier, more automated task.”

As a new professor, Albarghouthi looks forward to leading dynamic, participatory classes and letting his own enthusiasm for the field show as a means of fueling students’ excitement.

“Computer science is a great avenue for building things, and the field has deep mathematical foundations, so it’s exciting from a scholarly perspective,” he says.

[Photo credit:  Sarah Morton, UW-Madison College of Letters & Science]