Pfenning pleased to start new job

Frank Pfenning, professor of computer science, is the new head of the computer science department. Pfenning succeeds Jeannette Wing, who stepped down to become the head of Microsoft Research International.

Pfenning says that he was initially hesitant to take on the job because it meant giving up a lot of teaching and research, both of which he enjoys. “In some ways, I thought, ‘I have the ideal job, so why change?’ ” However, on the insistence of faculty members, who assured him that he was the best person for the job, he agreed to accept the position.

“A lot of things in this job are centered around people, and I like talking to people, working with people, and supporting them in what they need to do, making sure they can get the right conditions for whatever they want to do.... Those are the things that I really enjoy and think I can be fairly effective at,” Pfenning said.
However, there are a few things Pfenning is not entirely looking forward to. “Well, I haven’t really had the big budget meeting. Figuring out the numbers and the balance of the budget. At home, my wife does our checkbook,” he said.

Regarding his research and the effects of his new job on it, Pfenning said, “The way I’m trying to do it is to essentially reduce the number of projects that I’m involved in, rather than just cutting back on 25 percent of each of the things that I do.”

He plans to remain highly invested in two main projects. The first is a project with some faculty in Qatar, which involves developing frameworks for reasoning about programming languages.

He will also remain involved with a group in Portugal that is working on developing a programming language that can easily prove properties of concurrent and distributed programs.

When asked whether he will continue to teach, Pfenning said, “I love teaching too much to completely do away with it.”

He has developed and taught the courses Principles of Imperative Computation (15–122), which is an integral part of the recently revised undergraduate computer science curriculum, Compiler Design (15–411), and Constructive Logic (15–317).

He also played a key role in the development of Fundamentals of Programming Languages (15–312) alongside Robert Harper.

Apart from his work, Pfenning enjoys playing squash and hiking. He is also an avid reader and especially enjoys classic literature and mysteries.

When asked to share some learning from his experiences, Pfenning said, “People tend to make this drastic distinction between arts and sciences. I feel that they have much more in common than not. Both are human enterprises of understanding and communication.”

“Success in both is predicated upon creativity. Doing research and writing a scientific paper is analogous to writing and shooting a movie, for example. Writing a small and elegant program is like writing a poem,” he said.

His message to students who are looking to decide on career options is that they follow their passion, remain proud to serve, and maintain a balance in their lives, in order to be happier and more productive.