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!
Come meet 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 of Utah.


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 coast campus?
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 at CMU-West?
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?
Currently 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.”