After following a somewhat circuitous path to the field, ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Leslie Lamport has spent much of his career pioneering methods to help computer scientists realize the promise of distributed systems. In industrial research positions at Massachusetts Computer Associates, SRI International, DEC, and most recently at Microsoft Research, Lamport defined problems and developed both algorithms and formal modeling and verification protocols that are fundamental to the theory of distributed systems. His solutions are as elegant as they are practical.
You majored in math at MIT, then continued in the subject in graduate school at Brandeis. When did you start working with computers?
When I studied math, the field was under the influence of a mathematician named G.H. Hardy who, as I understand it, is responsible for the view that math should be pure, abstract, and as divorced as possible from the real world. That appealed to me initially, but when I went to grad school, I began to feel differently. I then took a break and spent four years teaching math at Marlboro College, a small liberal arts college in Vermont. There, I got interested in physics and went back to grad school intending to get into mathematical physics. Meanwhile, I supported myself by working at Massachusetts Computer Associates, which everyone called Compass. That is where I wound up doing what is now called computer science. I don't think it had a name at that time.
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