Interview with Martin Griss
He loves the beach, makes metal jewelry, and is a big
name at our very own campus on the West Coast!
Martin Griss, Associate
Dean for Education & Director of the Software Engineering Program at
Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley !
Can you tell me a little about yourself? Let’s
start with where you’re originally from
I was born in Capetown, South Africa in 1944, and then I lived in
Johannesburg until I completed high-school. I went on to do get
my BS in Physics (Summa Cum laude) at the Technion in Haifa Israel,
where I met my wife. Finally, I came to the US in 1967, did a PhD
in High Energy Particle Physics at the University of Illinois. Then
I moved around a bit—spent 2 years postdoc at Caltech, shifting
to working in computational methods; and then ended up spending
9 years as an Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University
What’s your favorite aspect of computer science?
I really enjoy exploring the software engineering and building of
complex software systems. Most recently software agent based systems,
and previously flexible component based systems. I also find the
interplay of languages, tools, processes, architecture, and human
issues in computer science fascinating.
Sometimes I refer to programming as an “adult video game”
– solving puzzles, exploring nooks and crannies of systems.
I noticed how obsessive my son was with video games, and I found
I got the same kind of satisfaction as he did from the challenge
and accomplishment of making it work!
Why did you choose Carnegie Mellon’s west
As I was coming to the end of my nearly 20 years at HP Laboratories
as a senior scientist and lab manager, leading all kinds of software
engineering research and improvement, Jim Morris, David Garlan and
Raj Reddy asked me to get involved, first with the HDCC program
and then with the new Software Engineering MS Program. In part because
of my extensive experience in software engineering, academics and
industrial practice, and in part because I live so close by.
I started as a part-time mentor, and became excited by the total
commitment to learn-by-doing and project centered training. I had
always been a fan of the studio-centered MSE at CMU Pittsburgh,
and saw engagement with CMU West as a way of getting involved and
making a contribution.
When I retired from HP in Aug 2002, I then got more and more “sucked
in” to the CMU West program, ending up as the director of
the software engineering program. I really felt rewarded working
with the faculty and the students.
Finally, just at the end of 2004, Jim Morris and Duane Adams convinced
me to take on an even more active and responsible role, overseeing
all of the educational activities.
How has your experience at CMU-West been so far?
It’s been incredible. I receive tremendous satisfaction from
my job, enjoy my colleagues and students, and I like being part
of an academic startup.
What visions do you have for the next few years
I’m still developing my vision, but I really hope to help
transform the education program and connect it to the research program
and to local industry in ways that silicon valley companies and
professionals will say “wow, we are so glad CMU chose to establish
this innovative campus here; it really made a difference”
Throughout your long and broad-based experiences
in computer science projects, what has been your favorite project/application?
I’ve had two really memorable projects: First, I recently
led several teams that worked on a rule-based personal assistant,
using software agents to help me arrange meetings, manage my email
and calendar, and guide me on trips, communicated with a GPS enabled
cell phone, accept voice commands, etc. Even though I have built
or supervised and then use many novel prototypes, seeing a personal
agent come to life was totally satisfying.
The second experience was when I was in Utah (1973-1982), I worked
on a computer algebra system, REDUCE, and enjoyed immensely combining
novel language design, system architecture, mathematics, specialized
algorithms, and high-performance portable LISP software.
What’s your favorite thing to do outside
of the office?
most of my spare time goes into creating silver jewelry; I have
a studio, lots of metal working tools, and even a web site rocks-n-rags.com
. I have had an open studio show, and will have another in May.
I sell some of the pieces.
In the past, I’ve had several hobbies, including playing music
(clarinet) and painting with acrylics (one of my paintings was backdrop
to an interview in Business Week).
What would you have done in another life if you
didn’t go into technology/academia?
I would have been an artist (metal sculptor)
What’s your favorite color?
Purple! It’s a big favorite…I have purple file folders,
purple shirts, and even use purple a lot in my studio!
What’s your favorite place in the world?
I love going to Israel, spending time with family, seeing the scenery,
sitting on the beach, eating the food….
In general, I really enjoy going to the beach – especially
Santa Cruz and Monterey; Italy is fantastic as well, especially
the region around Florence and Vienna.
What motto/philosophy do you live life by?
I really believe in treating people well, trying to live with honesty,
love and humor.
My hero is Einstein; I have even cultivated his hairstyle (when
I had more hair);
He said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.
Someone else said, “Any fool can have the facts; it take an
expert to have an opinion.”