By Kimberley Clementi
What would prompt a senior software engineer with Apple, Inc. to exchange a high-performance career for academia? That’s precisely the path Michael Coblenz took when he left the tech giant after an eight-year tenure and returned to his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, to earn his Ph.D.
For Coblenz, a new assistant professor in UC San Diego’s Computer Science and Engineering Department, changing trajectories opened complimentary approaches to solving problems in software development: the first, theoretical and applied research and the second, professional training. The university classroom is the point where these two avenues converge.
“I want to raise the level of software quality by developing safer tools for writing software,” said Coblenz. “At the same time, I hope to make a real impact on education, helping students who are industry-focused prepare to be strong contributors on their future software engineering teams.”
This dual mission is what brought Coblenz to UC San Diego. Coblenz is teaching software engineering courses, a training ground for the next generation of engineers who will soon encounter real-life programming challenges like those he experienced at Apple.
Of equal importance to Coblenz, the CSE department’s collaborative environment sets the stage for him to continue his interdisciplinary research at the intersection of programming languages, software engineering and human-computer interactions.
“UC San Diego has people doing work in all three of these areas,” said Coblenz. “I’m looking forward to engaging deeply with the fantastic students and faculty here on a variety of exciting research projects.”
Coblenz hopes his research will make it easier for programmers and software engineers to create high-quality software at lower cost – with fewer bugs and less time to completion. Additionally, he aims to make writing software more accessible for those whose experience and background are in other fields.
“Software is too expensive, takes too long to create and modify, and frequently is too buggy,” said Coblenz. “Plus, all kinds of people – many of whom don’t have formal training in software engineering or computer science – need to write software,” he noted. This includes scientists who write software to run experiments, model scenarios or analyze data.
While Coblenz’s research has practical applications within the software industry, he envisions broader-reaching, global implications. For example, improved programming languages could empower scientists to address the climate crisis. New formal tools could help policymakers develop and enforce climate change policies. A deeper understanding of human cognition could make data analytics safer for everyone.
Coblenz may be pursuing lofty goals, but he is equally eager to forge connections with university students and engage in campus life. Besides biking to work, Coblenz enjoys hiking and photography. He also serves on the Undergraduate Committee Advising and Mentorship (UGCOM) committee.
“Undergraduates represent the future of computer science,” said Coblenz. “And I’m excited about helping make a great experience for them – both in terms of culture and in educational outcomes.”