Thursday, October 4, 2012

A 30th Anniversary Family Photo

We often talk about the "Harvard Family," a phrase that rings hollow to some who find Harvard expressing the family love more passionately during fundraising season than other parts of the year. But after you've been teaching for awhile, it is impossible not to have a family love for people you knew years before, when they (and you) were younger and less formed. Santayana expresses beautifully the joy of working forever with the young, and yet seeing some of them in their maturity. "While we are young," he says, "and as yet amount to nothing, we retain the privilege of infinite potentiality. The poor actuality as not yet taken its place, and in giving one thing made everything else forever unattainable." That seems a bit sour for a Harvard professor, even given that Harvard admissions did not have the standards in his day that it has in mine. In any case, today's students have enough job changes that they can certainly count on more than one realization of their potentiality.

A few years after I started teaching, I started maintaining a list of my teaching fellows. I work with these students, including many undergraduates, very closely. Of course I pick only people who have already shown their promise in Harvard coursework, and then mentor them about taking responsibility for teaching and grading and helping each other be the best. It's a pretty amazing alumni club, including professors of computer science at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Cornell, and a bunch of other top CS departments, as well as some prominent scientists in industry. The full list is posted here. I don't think there are any errors, but there are some lacunae in the early years; if by chance anyone out there can fill in the gaps I would greatly appreciate it.

Many of these people stayed friendly with each other and with me long after that intense teaching experience. In fact two marriages (that I know of) emerged from the intimate experience of designing and grading problem sets and sharing teaching tricks. I haven't had any children of TFs as TFs, though I have certainly had some children of students as students!

In the fall of 1982, I taught CS50, intro CS (it was then called AS11 and was a Pascal programming course). This was only the second year the course existed; today it has become legendary (see this lovely tribute to today's CS50 posted by an HBS student). We graded the hour exam on Halloween and after we were done doing that, the TFs were invited over to my house for dinner. One of them got the bright idea to get up in Harry Lewis Halloween costumes. I snapped this picture, which will be 30 years old in a few weeks.

Here are the people in the picture, in their approximate positions:

                                                                   John Thielens   Michael Cote
        Craig Partridge          Penny Chase    Phillip Stern                              John Ramsdell          Ted Nesson  
       Anders Weinstein   Lisa Hellerstein       Larry Lebowitz  Phil Klein  Rony Sebok  Beth Adelson
  Christoph Freytag                                  Michael Massimilla                                        Jonathan Amsterdam
Margo Seltzer

And here, including the people who did not make it into the picture, are their current affiliations as far as I know. Some of them are informed guesses. Again, if anyone can supply better pointers I would love to have them.

Beth Adelson: Professor of Psychology, Rutgers U.
Jonathon Amsterdam: Software engineer, Google
Eric Carter: Cardiologist, Utah
Melissa Chase: Department head, MITRE
Michael Cote: Deceased
Larry Denenberg: Software engineer, Tripadvisor
Christoph Freytag: CS Professor, Humboldt University, Berlin
Boo Gershun: Lives in Boston area
Adam Gottlieb: Lost
Lisa Hellerstein: CS Professor, NYU-Poly
Charles Hurd: Team Lead, Instruments Data Systems Group at Susquehanna International Group (SIG)
Philip Klein: CS Professor, Brown U.
Larry Lebowitz: Chief Investment Officer, The Investment Fund for Foundations
Joe Marks: previously head of Mitsubishi Lab in Cambridge and Disney Research, now with a startup
Michael Massimilla: Senior Director, Software Architect at DealerTrack
Ted Nesson: Senior Director of Engineering at Pegasystems
Craig Partridge: VP for Network Research, Raytheon BBN
John Ramsdell: MITRE
Rony Sebok: VP, Operations, 1 Beyond
Margo Seltzer: CS Professor, Harvard
Phillip Stern: FPGA Design Verification Lead, Teradyne
John Thielens: Chief Architect, Cloud Services, Axway
Anders Weinstein: Senior Research Programmer, Robotics Institute, CMU

A fabulous group and I am proud to know them all, including the ones I have not seen since shortly after the photo was taken. But there are two who deserve special mention. One is Margo Seltzer, who improbably wound up (after realizing a few other actualities) my wonderful colleague, a few doors down from mine in Maxwell Dworkin. She deserves a shout, if for no other reason, because she organized this Halloween-costume stunt.

The other is Larry Lebowitz. TIFF, which he now heads, is an investment fund whose investors are nonprofits. So it is possible that the modest endowment of your favorite small college or museum is under his management. Larry came to this post recently having headed a big hedge fund in Texas. He is not of an age to be slowing down, but he is of an age where he is thinking about how to do good in the world, using both his energies and his skills. I have kept in touch with him over the years because we are both Roxbury Latin School alumni; he has served RLS as trustee and we spent time together on that board.

It has just been announced in Harvard Magazine that Larry has given a chair to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a stunning act of generosity. A few weeks ago I got a call from the Harvard development office explaining that I had to approve the name of the chair. Why? I asked. Because it is going to be named for me and Marlyn (my wife, Marlyn McGrath, another alum and longtime servant of Harvard).

It is the greatest honor that I have ever received, and Marlyn and I are moved beyond words. Thank you!

Here is the announcement. Our names will not be attached to the chair until we retire; until then it will be the Charles River Professorship. The chair has been awarded to Rob Wood, our amazing micro-robotic engineer. It is a great choice.


  1. Prof. Lewis,

    I still have a copy of this photo on my hard drive somewhere. What are the odds that I'd find this on Facebook, linked there by Margo? Fantastic! Your information on me is correct, although I'm now more of a Senior Developer/Architect than a Team Lead. Semantics, really. It was an honor to teach for you and I'm sorry not to have kept up ties since Harvard. Without being overly dramatic, taking AM 110 "back in the day" (1980) was the course that put me on the path I now find myself. I still remember the first day of class, when you were confronted with a lecture hall holding some 300 students, and you felt the need to explain that "this course is HARD!" in an attempt to weed out those unserious about programming. Best course I ever took. Thank you for the education and, later, the opportunity to teach and give back.

    -- Charlie Hurd

    1. Charlie, so great to hear from you! That is so sweet! Truth in advertising. Q: What year was that and who was your AM 110 TF? My strongest AM 110 memory is from 1981, when Carl Stork wheeled a keg of beer out from the Prep Room in the Science Center the day I got tenure and passed out cups to the class. That would be a national scandal today. (Can't remember where I got your title -- LinkedIn maybe?) Best to you!

  2. Professor Lewis,
    Taking AS11 in my junior year changed my path for sure. It was my first CS course and I found it so intriguing that I took 8 more CS courses in the remaining 3 semesters before graduation. It was sort of late to change concentrations so my degree is in English and American Literature and Language, but I have worked for Teradyne in various CS related jobs for almost 30 years now.
    My daughter Alexa Stern took CS50 last year (pass/fail) as a senior. She enjoyed the first programming assignment but found the later ones frustrating because she knew the algorithm but had to spend hours debugging details like where the semi-colon goes. Kids today! They never would have have survived the days of acoustically coupled modems and punched tape for storing programs.
    My son Michael is studying CS at Cornell and to my aged eyes the problem sets in their Intro to CS class look far less challenging than what you taught us in the early '80s. On the other hand, these kids create the apps that make my SmartPhone so useful, so enough Bah, Humbug from me.
    I read your articles in Harvard Magazine and am glad to see you pushing alternative learning and teaching modes. My family has thrived in the lecture and test format prevalent in the US, but I really believe that many students do not reach their potential through this method and that society will benefit if we find a way to make more people successful in school. My experience at Teradyne convinces me that much of life depends on teamwork, harnessing each members particular skills, and the happy synergy when a small group solves a problem that none of them could individually. Yet in school, we often penalize students for working together and make grades seem like the goal rather than finding solutions.
    Enough rambling. Your teaching the AS11 course and then choosing me to be a TF had a huge influence in my career and life. Thank you.
    Phillip Stern '83

    1. Phillip,
      Thanks so much for the comparison, yesterday to today and Cambridge to Ithaca! Yes, we take so much for granted. Things actually work! I am convinced that in the days when you could not really believe the metaphors being played out on the screen, because the illusions were shattered far too regularly, computers were more frustrating but there was some benefit -- we trusted them less, we were more skeptical that anything automated was really right. In any case, all the best!

  3. Thanks for the memories, Harry. Those were wonderful times.

    1. Yo Jonathan! Hope all is well! And thanks to yoiu!