Laurie E. Damianos is a two-time graduate from
Carnegie Mellon now Lead Artificial Intelligence Engineer at Mitre
Corporation near Boston , MA. After Laurie graduated
in 1985 with a degree in the biological sciences, she returned and earned
a degree in computer science in 1994.
In the following interview, Laurie reflects on her time at CMU and the lessons she has learned since earning her second degree.
Reputation and location (I grew up in Pittsburgh)
What was your favorite class and why?
I had two favorites: Algorithms and 212. In 212 I liked the instructor. Algorithms - was really challenging, taught me to think "out of the box", and showed me that there was never just one right answer
Who was your favorite professor and why?
Steve Shafer, Ph.D. (CS1979, 1983). He seemed to enjoy teaching a lot and made the class and assignments fun yet challenging.
What was the best thing about living in Pittsburgh?
I had grown up there so some friends and family were still there. But I think what I like most about Pittsburgh are the friendly people and how beautiful it can be when the seasons change.
What opportunities do you feel you had at Carnegie Mellon that you wouldn't have had at another university?
At Carnegie Mellon, I had the opportunity to work on real projects with teams of students. This was great preparation for work in the real world where collaboration is key to successful projects. Carnegie Mellon also presented me with the opportunity to do real research in addition to my classes.
Carnegie Mellon taught me how to think "out of the box" and how to solve problems. I find these valuable skills no matter what I do in life. Where I work, there are CS graduates from many universities. It's not surprising that those from Carnegie Mellon are good thinkers and problem solvers, or "scientists," while those from some other universities tend to fall into the "programmer" category.
I have several pieces of advice. First of all, keep in mind that many others before you made it through - it's not that bad. Second, stop worrying and spend more time focusing on really *thinking* about and enjoying what it is that you are learning.
Lastly, if you are truly not enjoying the program, it's OK to change your mind. Changing course mid-program does not indicate failure. Life is too short to waste time doing things that do not make you happy, and making mistakes is not a bad thing as long as you can learn from those mistakes. (I think people learn more from making mistakes than they would otherwise.)
The advances in the field of computer science have lead to a digital revolution. We've seen the birth of the personal computer, the fruition of Moore's law, the rise of the Internet, to name a few. What do you think we'll see next?
Ubiquitous computing and systems (agents) that collaboratively work to assist humans.
Describe your current position and its roles and responsibilities.
My title is Lead Artificial Intelligence Engineer, but this is not necessarily indicative of my roles and responsibilities. My roles include project manager, technical researcher, technology integrator, and evaluation/HCI consultant. I am responsible for managing several projects at any one time, which includes making decisions regarding program direction and people's research, interacting with government sponsors, dealing directly with users, and acting as "ambassador" of our work (giving briefings and demonstrations, meeting with potential customers, and presenting our work at conferences). I am also responsible for designing experiments and evaluating both utility and usability of prototype systems. Because much of our work is innovative and on the leading edge of technology, I am also encouraged to publish. Lastly (and very importantly), I am responsible for bringing in new sponsors and support for our work.
What research projects are you currently working on or completed recently (e.g. describe your work? What is it? Why is it important? What impact has this project made or will make in the field of computer science, technology, society etc.?)
I am involved in the TIDES (Translingual Information Detection Extraction
and Summarization) program sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA). TIDES aims to revolutionalize the way that information
is obtained from human language by enabling people to find and interpret
needed information quickly and effectively, regardless of language or
medium. My team participated in an integrated feasibility experiment where
we put together a prototype system for monitoring infectious disease outbreaks
around the world.
The work is important because it has provided a service to our government, health organizations (including the International Red Cross, the CDC, WHO), medical professionals, humanitarian aid and disaster relief groups (like the European Disaster Center), and other non-government organizations (United Nations).
The overall project has made impacts on the fields of machine translation,
summarization, information extraction, and information detection. The
"experiment" has successfully demonstrated that even pure research
technology can be adapted to provide valuable and useful analytic tools.
The prototype system and its by-products have made several worldwide impacts,
including support for the Humanitarian Operations Center in Kuwait City.
I decided to get a second degree because I felt that I was not being
challenged enough at the time. I had originally planned on getting my
PhD in the biological sciences, but I was intrigued by the advances in
computer science and decided to pursue that instead. As it turns out,
my first degree in the biological sciences was never completely wasted.
In fact, my first job after my (second) graduation was in designing software
for interactive learning in the biology domain. My job today involves
biology, too, and bioinformatics is becoming VERY big.
What important lessons did you learn both before and after graduation?
I assume you mean before and after my *second* graduation? Before I went back to school, I realized how important it is to challenge yourself constantly to keep life interesting and keep yourself motivated. Doing something that comes easily tires quickly. I also learned that there is much to borrow from school learning for real world situations (e.g., good problem solving skills). After graduation, I learned that I could do pretty much anything that I set out to do.
Interview conducted by Sarah
Bennett, Class of 2007