Interview with Lorrie Cranor

Lorrie Cranor
Associate Research Professor, Computer Science and Engineering & Public Policy


It seems you have an incredibly long history with Washington University at St. Louis…can you tell me about why you decided to come to Carnegie Mellon and how the move to Pittsburgh was for you?
I was both an undergraduate and graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, and then I worked at AT&T Labs in New Jersey for 7 years. When I joined AT&T Labs, it was really a lot of fun and it was great research environment. But over time, as the telecom industry went downhill, it became a lot less fun to work at an industrial research lab. I was attracted to CMU for the opportunity to do interdisciplinary work here.

So how do you like Pittsburgh?
I like Pittsburgh a lot—it’s a very friendly town, and I love being able to walk to work.

What’s your favorite place to go in Pittsburgh?
hmmm…ummm…uhhh… [Laughs] I haven’t lived here long enough to have a favorite place.

It doesn’t have to be just one place…it can be multiple places if you’d like!
I enjoy walking around Squirrel Hill and Oakland, and taking my kids to the playground…

You seem to have a lot of creative interests outside your work, like art, music, photography, clothes and quilt making…did you at one point have a secret desire to be an artist?
Yeah, I suppose so! [Laughs]
I minored in fine arts as an undergraduate, and there were certainly times along the way when I was pondering career paths that I said to myself that maybe I’ll just be an artist…. But I think it wouldn’t be as much fun if that was what I was doing all the time…I think part of the reason that I enjoy it so much is that it is a hobby, and not what I have to do all the time.

What’s your favorite, most relaxing thing to do?
I like spending time with my family and my kids. As far as other types of activities, I enjoy quilting quite a bit…when I’m stressed out and really need a break, I have a sewing room in my house that I go to.

If someone were to visit your website, they could see pictures of many of your creations—do you just make these things for fun, or do you also sell them?
I often get people asking me if I would make a quilt and sell it to them…I haven’t actually done that because I don’t really have time. Also, again, it wouldn’t be as much fun if I were under the pressure of making something that someone was going to buy. I have exhibited my quilts—there are quilt shows all the time, and I’ve entered my quilts into shows and won at times. I had one quilt that I entered into a national contest and it was a finalist, and it went on tour for two years to museums around the country and was included in a book.

You also make an “art to wear” series. Do you wear these?
Yeah, I’ve made a number of jackets and vests, and I do wear them. I have a jacket that I’ve worn a few times this semester, and my students always ask, “did you make that?!” [Laughs]

What classes do you teach here, and which one is your favorite to teach?
There are two classes that I’ve been teaching: I teach Privacy, Policy, Law and Technology and an undergraduate Computers and Society class. I’ve taught the Privacy class twice now, and I’m teaching Computers and Society for the first time—I’m co-teaching with Dave Farber.
I really enjoy both of the classes—so I don’t think I have a favorite yet! [Laughs]
They are different. The Computers and Society class has mostly sophomores and juniors, and the Privacy class has mostly graduates…so it’s a different experience teaching for undergraduates and graduate students.

Have you always wanted to teach?
Yes. I did some teaching when I was a graduate student…at Washington University they aren’t all that enthusiastic about having graduate students teach because they, like CMU, have fairly small classes and believe that professors should be teaching the classes. I wanted to teach because I wanted the experience, and they would only let me teach an elective class. I had gone to the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, and it opened my eyes to a lot of policy issues having to do with the Internet, and I thought it would be great if we had an undergraduate course that talked about these issues. So I developed the curriculum for it and taught it.

What’s your favorite food?
I like chocolate a lot…and I like bananas…

Together, or separate?
Both! [Laughs]

What’s your favorite color?

What motto or philosophy do you live life by?
One of my favorite quotes, which is on my website, is from a Dr. Seuss book called The Lorax, and it says, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” And I really like that quote because I think that we all like to complain about things, but if you really care a lot about something, its up to each of us to do something about it. It might be true that there’s not much each of us can individually do, but if we don’t all step in there, then nothing will ever get accomplished.

Being a woman in a working field and in technology, how do you feel about doing the whole balancing act with the family and all?
It is a challenge doing the whole balancing act, but I think that it’s definitely very doable. There are plenty of women who do have successful careers and do have families. I think that young women who are in school right now and are concerned about how to manage these things should realize that it is possible. If you want to have a family and have a career, you can do it…but it’s not simple…it’s not easy, and it’s very helpful to have a spouse who is supportive.
For me, I’ve found that it’s important to be able to draw lines and say that there are certain times that are family times, and I’m not going to be doing work. For example, I usually leave at about 4:45pm and go home, and there are many of my colleagues who try to schedule meetings that start at about 4:30 or 5:00, and they now know that if they do that, I won’t come! [Laughs]
The good thing is that most of them are actually very respectful of that, and I’m not the only one around here who says they have to leave around 5 to spend time with their kids. I think that to be able to really enjoy both your work and your family, you really do need to set aside some time for each.