Engineering Departments

Computer Science

Barbara Ryder
Blacksburg, VA , April 23, 2015
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Barbara G. Ryder, the J. Byron Maupin Professor of Engineering and head of the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, will be honored with The Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group on Software Engineering (SIGSOFT) Influential Educator Award on May 22.

Ryder achieved the annual award for her significant contributions in software engineering education, graduate student and faculty mentoring and efforts to improve the representation of women.

For more than 33 years, Ryder’s profession has been rooted in education and mentoring. As a result of her leadership, 15 doctoral candidates and three masters students successfully completed their programs. She also supervised four post-doctoral students.

Prior to joining the Virginia Tech community, while a faculty member at Rutgers, Ryder received the Graduate School Teaching Award in 2007, the Leader in Diversity Award in 2006, and the Professor of the Year Award in computer science in 2003.

Ryder is a founding member of the National Center for Women and Information Technology Pacesetters program that strives to increase the number of women in computer science. She continues working with Pacesetters, holding the position of Virginia Tech's executive champion for the program.

She has worked to increase the number of women graduating from college with technical degrees by targeting outreach efforts to high schools. She has organized visits to numerous high schools, providing the teenagers with interactions with mentors and with currently enrolled women in computer science. 

Ryder is a Fellow of the ACM since 1998, received the ACM President's Award in 2008, and its SIGPLAN Distinguished Service Award in 2001. She is an active leader in ACM, serving in multiple leadership capacities. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Computer Research Association from 1998 until 2001.

She received her bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from Brown University, a master's degree in computer science from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in computer science from Rutgers University in 1982.

ACM, (, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and practitioners to inspire dialogue, share resources, and address the field’s challenges. The society strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. And supportive of the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.

Ali Butt
Blacksburg, VA , March 04, 2015
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

With the advent of cloud computing, users worldwide are provided huge data storage that can be accessed and shared from anywhere using mobile devices such laptops, smart phones and tablets. An analogy might be having a library that everyone had access to, whether the person lived in Fairbanks, Alaska or Bombay, India.

Such global data access and sharing allows greatly accelerated progress in scientific and technological achievements, not to mention innovative social media uses.

However, with the data available worldwide, challenges remain in the ability to handle the volume of users attempting to access information simultaneously, as well as in the capability of a data center to respond  to the varying request times that might limit performance.

To help manage this storage of data in an efficient manner, Ali R. Butt, associate professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, has received a NetApp Faculty Fellowship.

NetApp, a Fortune 500 company, develops software, systems, and services to manage and store data.

The storage of shared data via cloud computing is relatively new, although the original concept dates back to the 1950s when large-scale mainframe computers became more available. In the past few years, major companies such as Microsoft, Rackspace Hosting, IBM, and Amazon have announced their versions of initiatives in cloud computing.

However, distortions may still affect the retrieval of information. Butt’s plan to address this difficulty that often comes with a high volume of requests as well as performance problems from varying request patterns is to further develop Mizan, a high-performance and load balanced in-memory object caching storage system. In computing, a cache is a component that stores data in memory so that future requests for that data can be served faster from the memory instead of retrieving it from a slower device such as a disk.

“The goal is to make the load-balancer track hotspots and apply appropriate strategies,” Butt explained. This tracking might reveal key repetitious inquiries or provide a better idea of where data is migrating. With this information, “we may be able to dynamically mitigate imbalances, while supporting high-performance and efficient use of resources,” he added.

Butt already knows that Mizan can quickly detect hotspots in workloads, and is able to lessen any load imbalance that is critical in cloud computing.

The computer scientist plans to use the Amazon EC2 based cloud cluster to conduct his experiments.

“The choice of this design will allow Mizan to scale-up to a large number of cache nodes and scale up its performance by fully exploiting the parallelism offered by emerging massively multi-core computer architectures,” Butt said.

Butt is a previous recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER award for his research in high performance computing power.

The NetApp Faculty Fellowship program was established to encourage leading-edge research in storage and data management and to foster relationships between academic researchers and engineers and researchers at NetApp. NetApp selects recipients of its awards who have demonstrated they are working on research that is likely to make significant and relevant contributions to the greater body of work and to the storage and data management industry.

Professor Wu Feng of the Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science during a moment of filming at Burress Hall for a Microsoft-sponsored commercial that will air in North America and Europe.
Blacksburg, VA , February 03, 2015
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Microsoft is debuting this week a new television commercial featuring Wu Feng, a professor with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. Filmed on campus late last fall, the commercial is expected to air across North American and Europe.

Microsoft’s highlighting of Feng’s computing collaboration with medical researchers at Virginia Tech and other research centers with such programs as Computing in the Cloud – an effort to spur research discoveries within medicine – is part of the company’s global advertising campaign.

The commercial is part of a combined print and television advertising campaign by Microsoft that focuses on individuals and organizations the company calls “leaders in harnessing supercomputer powers to deliver lifesaving treatments.” Among those leaders featured in the ads are Feng, a professor with the Department of Computer Science.

“This campaign celebrates people and organizations and the amazing things they do with our technology,” said Kathleen Hall, corporate vice president of global advertising and media at Microsoft. “What could be more amazing than using the cloud to speed up analysis that could potentially help find a cure for cancer?

There are two versions of the commercial featuring Feng. The first is a 30-second spot airing on cable channels such as ESPN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and programs such as “The Daily Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman.” A longer, 100-second version is available online and features more dialogue from Feng.

Microsoft along with a film crew visited campus twice this past fall to shoot the commercial with Feng, once in October for exterior shots and later in November for interior shots. Interior filming took place at Torgersen Bridge, a lecture hall and the third-flood Visionarium lab  – also part of computer science -- at Torgersen Hall, Goodwin Hall, Burruss Hall and a “wet” laboratory with post-doctorate research fellow Zalman Vaksman at Virginia Bioinfomatics Institute.

Dozens of students appear as extras in a classroom and the Torgersen Bridge study area.

“I’m just one person in the grand scheme of things and I hope this can inspire people to reach out and find ways to work together to solve a very important problem and be of benefit to society,” said Feng.

The TV spot hits on theme that research that once took weeks now happens in hours. Using Microsoft hardware products Azure and HDInsight, scientists at Virginia Tech and elsewhere can harness supercomputing power to analyze vast amounts of DNA sequencing data. Much of the works takes place inside the Microsoft-operated cloud, where data limits are no longer an issue.

As part of the print campaign, Microsoft has run full-page ads featuring Virginia Tech and Feng in the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business Week, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, Time, Popular Mechanics, and Wired, among others. 

“We are thrilled that our department’s cutting-edge research in parallel computing and use of Azure, the Microsoft cloud framework, is being featured in a national advertising campaign,” said Barbara Ryder, department head of computer science. “Wu is a creative faculty member whose many contributions include leading large research collaborations, supervising award-winning undergraduate and graduate students, and contributing to efforts to diversify computing.”

In 2011, Feng and another Virginia Tech researcher were the first to win the worldwide award from the NVIDIA Foundation’s “Compute the Cure” program. The award is designed to spur faster genome analysis to make it easier for researchers to identify mutations relevant to cancer.

Left to right, Benjamin Scott Pruett, Nick Sharp, and Miraziz Yusupov are the Traveling Salesmen, a Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science student team that will travel to Morocco in 2015 for the World Finals of the Association of Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Competition.
Blacksburg, VA , December 23, 2014
Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Three Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science students and their faculty adviser will head to Morocco next year for the World Finals of the Association of Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Competition.

Students comprising the team The Traveling Salesmen placed third in the recent 2014 Mid-Atlantic U.S. regional competition finals, held at seven sites across the region, including one at nearby Radford University. Approximately 190 teams competed, from dozens of universities including Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., southern New Jersey, North Carolina, eastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Multiple regional competitions are held throughout the United States and Canada, according to organizers of the competition, known as ACM-ICPC.

The Traveling Salesmen team includes junior Benjamin Scott Pruett of Mechanicsville, Virginia, senior Nick Sharp of Sterling, Virginia, and junior Miraziz Yusupov of Chantilly, Virginia, who also is co-majoring in business economics with the Pamplin College of Business.

The trio will travel to Marrakech, Morocco, for the May 16-21, 2015, ICPC Word Finals, which the association says encourages “creativity, teamwork, and innovation in building new software programs, and enables students to test their ability to perform under pressure.” Traveling with the team will be coach and faculty advisor Godmar Back, an associate professor of computer science, part of the College of Engineering.

In all, Virginia Tech fielded eight teams, each comprised of three students, for the regional competition. Three teams, in addition to the Traveling Salesmen, finished in the Top 20, placing 11th, 15th, and 16th, respectively. North America will send 22 teams in all to Morocco in 2015.

During competition, student teams are assigned eight algorithmic problems for which they must develop and code efficient solutions. Teams do not know beforehand which input will be given to their programs. The input is chosen by judges to test correctness and efficiency of the submitted programs and often includes corner cases or large inputs that must be processed correctly and within the allotted time limit. Teams are ranked by how many problems they are able to solve, with ties broken based on the number of minutes elapsed for each solved problem.

Last year, Back coached a computer science team that placed second in regionals and traveled to Ekaterinburg, Russia. Before that, Virginia Tech’s last participation in finals came in 2007.

“The skills learned in these competitions are skills students need to have if they want to be successful in their job hunts,” Back said, adding that timed algorithmic-problem tests are regular parts of job and internship interviews with technology firms such as Google and Microsoft. “The students who are successful in these types of competitions often do well in job interviews.”

Participating in his second Word Finals, Sharp said, “Your ability to solve these problems is much more important than your grade point average, background, or really anything else.”

Yusupov said the day after his team was selected for the World Finals, he received an email from a major software producer asking him to apply for its upcoming summer internship program.

Back’s student teams train regularly for competition, including 5-hour practices held on Saturdays. There, students complete problem sets used in prior competitions. “We can compare our performance to how well we would have done in those past competitions,” said Back. Additionally teams practice on their own, learning speed and efficiency of problem solving.

Last year, more than 32,000 students from 2,300 universities representing 100 countries competed in regional competitions for a slot at the 2014 World Finals. The roster of teams for the 2015 World Finals is still being finalized as of press time, said Back.

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