University of Limerick, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge
BSc (Computer Science), MSc (Computation), PhD (Computer Science)
NASA, University of Limerick
Head of Department (CSIS) & Professor of Software Engineering
I’m Head of Department of the Department of Computer Science & Information Systems at University of Limerick and I work with Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software.
About Me: I'm a software engineer, who has worked in the space industry (for NASA) and in universities in Ireland, USA, Australia and Sweden. Everyone assumes I love science fiction, which I don't - except Red Dwarf, but that's more comedy than sci-fi. One of my former students co-wrote the highest earning song of all time. Can you figure out what it is?
These days I’m based in Limerick, Ireland, where I was born. But I spend a lot of my time in Washington DC (where I also have a house), as I spent 15 years working for NASA as Director of the NASA Software Engineering Laboratory.
My Work: i was hired by NASA because of my expertise in mathematical correctness of software (ensuring that we *know* software will work), but nowadays I work very much in the area of autonomous systems.
I was hired by NASA because of my expertise in the area of mathematical correctness of software. That is, showing that software will work the way we want it to. For space exploration this is really important, and most missions are planned for 20-30 years before launch and the software is only written at the end. We need to know that the software will do what it’s supposed to and often we can’t really test it fully beforehand. The software is just too big and too complex and until the hardware is actually in use, we can’t really test it. So we use mathematics to prove that the software will work and if there’s a problem that we will be able to recover from it. It doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have problems. But it really reduces the likelihood.
We’ve applied these techniques to a number of NASA missions, including the famous Rovers. We also used these techniques in the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope.
My Typical Day: I don't have a typical day. Some days start really early so that I can talk with people in other time zones. These days most of that is online.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
comedy-loving software nerd
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I turned down the opportunity to be a founder of what is now one of the biggest social media platforms.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My dad was a computer engineer and I would often visit him at work, so I had an interest in computers since i was very young. I read an article about how it was impossible to fully test software but that software was mathematics and we could use mathematics to make software more reliable.
What was your favourite subject at school?
English; people say it shows in my writing skills
What did you want to be after you left school?
I always wanted to be in the computer business in some way. Fairly early on i decided i wanted to be an academic.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
If not doing this, I'd be a publisher. As I write a lot and I've written several books, I enjoy the publication process.
What's your favourite food?
French, or anything hot and spicey.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I've been Commander of the Space Shuttle simulator.