Matthew Sinclair joins computer architecture faculty, views heterogeneous systems as the future


Matthew Sinclair, who joined the computer architecture faculty in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Computer Sciences in the fall of 2018, says that he’s working on how to design future computer hardware. “I see the computing community moving forward toward a world of heterogeneity,” says Sinclair. “We won’t be able to rely on Moore’s Law for much longer. If we want to continue providing better, faster, smaller, cheaper computers, we need to find alternate ways for innovation.”

Sinclair is honored to get to work with the titans of computer architecture at UW-Madison. “It’s a great place to do research in computer architecture. The computer architecture professors and their students at UW-Madison have had a hand in almost every foundational, influential piece of work in the field, all the way back to the 1940s and 50s. It’s quite an honor to get to work with the people who are responsible for so much of the important work that has been done in computer architecture. Getting the opportunity to try to enhance and continue that legacy is an honor I take very seriously.”

While at UW, Sinclair will continue his work on heterogeneous systems. “CPUs have been the workhorse for the past 50 years. CPUs are good at executing many programs, but they’re designed to be general-purpose,” says Sinclair. “We’ll soon reach the point where Moore’s Law will end, so in the future all computers will need to have many different specialized processors, each of which is optimized for certain types of computation. We’d only use processor A when we’re doing a task that runs well on type-A processors, and we’ll turn it off the rest of the time. Similarly for type B, C, and so on. By doing this, we can continue to get higher performance and more energy efficient computers,” he continues. “This is a great time for innovation, which is exciting for computer architects.”

In addition, Sinclair sees an opportunity for closer collaboration across the fields of computer science, with architecture in the center of an ecosystem that has interaction with all different parts of the computer community—programming languages, operating systems, networking, algorithms, etc.—“integrated even more tightly even than in the past.”

Sinclair comes to UW from a post-doc at AMD Research in Seattle. He grew up in Brookfield, just outside Milwaukee, and completed his undergraduate (BS in Computer Engineering and Computer Science with Honors) and MS (Electrical Engineering with a concentration in Computer Engineering) degrees at UW-Madison. He earned his PhD in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Sarita Adve, a UW alumna (MS ’89, PhD ’93). His PhD thesis on heterogeneous systems as a potential path to greater efficiency as the benefits of transistor scaling slow was recognized with a 2018 ACM SIGARCH/IEEE CS TCCA Outstanding Dissertation Award Honorable Mention. He was also a recipient of the University of Illinois’s 2018 David J. Kuck Outstanding Thesis Award.

One of the key reasons Sinclair went to graduate school was his desire to teach. “I really enjoy teaching.  At Illinois I completed a certificate in teaching to learn about effective pedagogy and to help me provide my students with the best education I can,” he says. “One of the things I’ve learned is that feedback from the students is extremely important. You need to constantly adapt to the needs of your students.”

Sinclair will be teaching CS 552 (Introduction to Computer Architecture) in the spring, which he will be teaching as “a flipped class” in the new WISCEL collaborative learning environment. “Rather than passively listening to lectures, students work together and participate in active learning during class time. I think this helps students to succeed by giving them more hands-on practice,” he says.

On his return to Madison, Sinclair notes, “The city’s grown a lot, which is very exciting.” In his free time, he enjoys playing volleyball, competing in triathlons, and he’s looking forward to taking advantage of the bike paths around Madison.