HE & me

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - El­lie Both­well

John Hennessy is a com­puter scientist and di­rec­tor of Knight-Hennessy Schol­ars, a global, grad­u­ate-level schol­ar­ship pro­gramme for study at Stan­ford Univer­sity. He was pres­i­dent of Stan­ford be­tween 2000 and 2016, co-founded MIPS Com­puter Sys­tems and Atheros Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and is chair­man of Al­pha­bet, the par­ent com­pany of Google. He jointly won the 2017 Tur­ing Award for con­tri­bu­tions to com­put­ing with his long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor David Pat­ter­son; vir­tu­ally all phones, tablets and smart de­vices run on a com­puter ar­chi­tec­ture de­vel­oped by the pair

Where and when were you born?

New York City, on 22 Septem­ber 1952.

How has this shaped you?

I am a na­tive New Yorker, a prod­uct of the Cold War era. This cer­tainly shaped my ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up. I also met the love of my life when we be­came high school sweet­hearts on Long Is­land.

What has changed most in global higher ed­u­ca­tion in the past five to 10 years?

Two things have re­ally changed. First, ed­u­ca­tion has be­come truly global. Stu­dents are global, fac­ulty are com­ing from around the world, stu­dents are look­ing for the best ed­u­ca­tional opportunities wher­ever they oc­cur, and for global ex­po­sure. Of course, the other thing that’s hap­pened is the rise of var­i­ous forms of on­line ed­u­ca­tion. They are not nec­es­sar­ily re­plac­ing con­ven­tional types of ed­u­ca­tion or un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees, but al­low­ing more wide­spread lifelong ed­u­ca­tion. This trend is what peo­ple need, given that they will of­ten go through mul­ti­ple ca­reers in their life­time.

How do you see the fu­ture of on­line ed­u­ca­tion and higher ed­u­ca­tion’s re­la­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy?

On­line ed­u­ca­tion has an im­por­tant role to play. There have been some real suc­cesses, es­pe­cially for work­ing adults with col­lege de­grees seek­ing to en­hance their skills and knowl­edge. Other do­mains have proved much more dif­fi­cult, in­clud­ing the re­me­di­a­tion sec­tor, which still has sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial. The chal­lenge is that learn­ing is an in­di­vid­u­alised process, and we need on­line tech­nolo­gies that are adap­tive to dif­fer­ent learn­ing styles and speeds.

How should aca­demics man­age their re­la­tion­ship with big tech­nol­ogy firms in light of the Facebook Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal? And what im­pact do you think the scan­dal will have on schol­ars who use so­cial me­dia data for re­search?

The reper­cus­sions from this scan­dal will be sig­nif­i­cant and could un­der­mine the abil­ity of the aca­demic com­mu­nity to get ac­cess to data that could be crit­i­cal to fu­ture re­search ef­forts. In­dus­try and academia have to make re­newed ef­forts to en­sure safe and ap­pro­pri­ate use of data with full and clear con­sent by the user.

What’s your most mem­o­rable mo­ment at Stan­ford?

I was es­pe­cially proud when we an­nounced a ma­jor change to un­der­grad­u­ate fi­nan­cial aid, dra­mat­i­cally im­prov­ing the af­ford­abil­ity of a Stan­ford ed­u­ca­tion. Other mem­o­rable mo­ments were shaped by peo­ple I met whom I re­ally re­spect and who were gen­er­ous with their wis­dom – hear­ing Steve Jobs’ com­mence­ment speech and greet­ing the Dalai Lama are at the top of that list.

Which key at­tributes do you look for when se­lect­ing Knight-Hennessy schol­ars? What sort of lead­ers are you hop­ing to cre­ate?

We look for aca­demic ex­cel­lence be­cause we need stu­dents who will pros­per in the aca­demic pro­grammes they’re in, and those are de­mand­ing pro­grammes. Be­yond that, we’re look­ing for peo­ple who are self-aware, have hu­mil­ity, have courage, and seek to live a life that makes a con­tri­bu­tion. It’s about hav­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on the peo­ple they live with and the peo­ple they serve as lead­ers.

Have you had a eureka mo­ment?

Yes, I’ve had sev­eral: see­ing the first Xerox Alto (the com­puter that in­spired the Macin­tosh), and see­ing early demon­stra­tions of

Google and Ya­hoo! when they were both still Stan­ford projects.

What is the big­gest mis­con­cep­tion about your field of study?

A com­mon mis­con­cep­tion about com­puter sci­ence is that it is a dis­ci­pline where peo­ple work solo as pro­gram­ming serfs: in fact, all com­plex soft­ware sys­tems are built in teams. A lot of ef­fort goes into de­sign­ing and or­gan­is­ing th­ese large team projects.

What ad­vice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t worry too much about be­ing a nerd; it will work out OK.

You were re­cently awarded the Tur­ing Award – a $1 mil­lion (£762,000) prize. What will you do with the money?

I am proud to have re­ceived this award along with David Pat­ter­son. I in­tend to do­nate my half of the prize to a univer­sity.

What are the best and worst things about your day?

Don’t worry too much about be­ing a nerd; it will work out OK

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the best thing is al­ways the peo­ple. The worst thing is, I should have cloned my­self! I should have fig­ured out how to repli­cate my­self so that I have a lit­tle more time in my day. That would be a very help­ful ca­pa­bil­ity.

What’s your big­gest re­gret?

I sup­pose I re­gret never liv­ing or study­ing abroad. I trav­elled a lot but never had the time to spend an ex­tended pe­riod in a dif­fer­ent part of the world.

Tell us about some­one you’ve al­ways ad­mired.

I’ve al­ways had great ad­mi­ra­tion for Abraham Lin­coln. He led the US through one of its most chal­leng­ing and dif­fi­cult times, and kept true to his core eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples.

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