Liskov (née Barbara Huberman) is a computer scientist at MIT, where she is Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Institute Professor in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), where she leads the Programming Methodology Group. One of the first women in the US to earn a PhD in computer science, Liskov was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, the eldest of four siblings. In 2008, she won the Turing Award for her invention of the Liskov substitution principle, one of only three women to win that award so far (the other two are Fran Allen and Shafi Goldwasser).
Huberman (as she was then known) earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UC-Berkeley in 1961. She wanted to do graduate work in mathematics at Princeton, but at the time the university did not accept women as graduate students. While she was accepted at Berkeley, Huberman decided to accept an offer from Mitre Corporation instead. Located in Bedford, Massachusetts, one of Boston’s northern suburbs, Mitre is a not-for-profit organization that acts as a liaison between federal funding agencies and cutting-edge scientific research in the private sector.
Founded in 1958, Mitre was originally established to coordinate research for the US Air Force’s SAGE project. SAGE (semi-automatic ground environment) was an early effort to network many large mainframe computers to provide a single comprehensive map of the US airspace based on data derived from numerous ground-based radar stations. It was at Mitre that Huberman first became interested in computers and taught herself programming. She worked at Mitre for a year, then took a job as a full-time programmer at Harvard University, where she was involved in early efforts to develop machine translation.
In 1963, Huberman decided to reapply to graduate schools, this time in computer science. She was accepted by Stanford University, where she earned her master’s degree in 1965 and her PhD in 1968. At Stanford, Huberman focused on artificial intelligence, working closely with John McCarthy, one of the pioneers of the field. For her doctoral dissertation, she wrote a program that played chess endgames. After graduating from Stanford, Huberman married her fellow computer scientist, Nathan Liskov. The family relocated to the Boston area, where Barbara Liskov worked briefly for the Mitre Corporation once again, before accepting a faculty position at MIT. The couple’s son, born in 1975, was named Moses after Moses Huberman, Barbara’s father.
In 1980, MIT named Liskov a full professor. Her research career has been devoted chiefly to developing programming languages and methodologies for distributed computing. Early on, she developed several important languages, including Venus, CLU, Argus, and Thor. However, it is probably her work on programming methodologies for communication among distributed systems—including promise pipelining, subtyping, and, more recently, Byzantine fault tolerance—that has had the greatest impact on the field.
A fellow of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Liskov has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and three technical manuals. She has also supervised some 78 doctoral dissertations.
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