Meet one of the inspirations for BUGSENG’s success

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 12:28

 Dr Patricia Hill (or Pat as she’s known around here) makes an unassuming hero. However, she’s been part of the BUGSENG journey since the start and her experience contributes to our success every day. Her career story is inspiring and exhausting in equal measure, so we persuaded her to pause and reflect on what she’s learnt so far.As co-founder of BUGSENG, how would you describe your role?“I mainly work on the design and implementation of static analyses for the automatic checking of compliance with respect to coding standards. One of the best things about my role is the breadth and variety. My work ranges from the formalization of coding rules (they are usually expressed informally) to the design, testing and optimization of automatic checkers.“There is also a huge variety in coding rules and the related checking algorithms. I’ve found you need to be able to delve deep into a project, but then re-focus quickly and completely. This helps you to meet whatever new challenges come your way.”Thankfully, her extensive experience in industry means even this amount of juggling rarely phases Pat. Her career started in the Sixties, the pioneering days of early computing. She soon built up an impressive record of combining multiple programming projects while raising four children.That’s not to mention successfully completing a PhD in Pure Mathematics with the UK’s Open University in her spare time! If that sounds exhausting, Pat’s response is simply: “Well, I found that being organized and keeping good records helped.”You pursued an academic career for many years. Why did you decide on that route and how did it lead to working at BUGSENG?“Once I’d completed my PhD, I jumped at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take up a research fellowship, aimed at career returners, at the University of Bristol in the UK. I had to change fields from pure maths to computing and I had mixed feelings about that at the time. But, it was a pragmatic decision and I’ve never regretted it.”Pat went on to become a senior research fellow at the School of Computing at the University of Leeds, also in the UK. This role involved researching, lecturing, admissions and supervising post-graduate and doctoral students. It was also where she first met Roberto Bagnara, BUGSENG’s CTO.“I gave Roberto his first post-PhD position back in the early Nineties,” she recalls. “And, we’ve been working and researching together on various scientific and software development projects ever since. When he came up with the idea for BUGSENG, we just carried on working together on this new idea; it was a natural progression.”As Roberto happily admits, Pat’s contribution has been and continues to be fundamental. For example, he credits her extensive research and expertise in static analysis and type safe logic programming as crucial to the development of BUGSENG’s ECLAIR software verification tool.“The book she co-authored, ‘The Goedel Programming Language’, alongside numerous academic papers, encapsulated so many new ideas with great potential in the struggle for sound, safe software.” explains Roberto. “With ECLAIR, we are bringing safety to languages that are inherently unsafe. And, Pat’s interests and research have provided a bedrock that we continue to develop.”Do you have any advice for someone wanting to switch from an academic career to a more business-focused role, or someone looking to combine the two?“Although it can feel like a big switch at first, there are similarities. Many of the research techniques and methodologies I developed during my university career are hugely relevant and transferable. Even going back to my mathematician days, I can see that the skills I learnt, such as the logical approach to problem solving, are ones I use instinctively every day in the projects we now work on for numerous BUGSENG clients.”Does having such a broad range of experience also help?“Yes, definitely. So often, when working on a project, I find the language analysis expertise I built up during those university teaching and research years will come flooding back. Suddenly, something clicks-in that perhaps no one else has thought of.”You work in a highly dynamic industry. How do you keep up-to-date with new developments?“It’s important to be always learning; software development and verification is certainly never a dead end process. Of course, we never work alone here at BUGSENG. We’re a highly collaborative team and I’m always learning new technical skills or different ways of working from Roberto and Abramo.“I also make a point of keeping up with professional industry bodies. For example, I’ve been heavily involved with the Association for Logic Programming in various guises, including newsletter editor, treasurer and as programme chair for their Seattle conference. I also sit on panels for the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which provides government funding and grants for research and postgraduate training.“This is a big commitment. But, reading, debating and refereeing funding proposals for the latest innovations and cutting-edge research related to programme analysis and functional logic keeps me on my toes. And, it helps me stay in touch with current thinking.”Thank you Pat, for sharing your story.In future blogs we’ll be covering more BUGSENG news; technical updates, as well as details of the projects we work on, and stories from the people behind the company, our partners and clients.We’d also love to hear your thoughts. If you have any topics, concerns or questions that you’d like us to cover in future blogs, please let us know. You can contact us here.  

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