Ruzica Piskac named the Dubinsky Associate Professor of Computer Science

Ruzica Piskac
Ruzica Piskac (photo by Michael Marsland)

Ruzica Piskac, recently appointed as the Donna L. Dubinsky Associate Professor of Computer Science, focuses her research on programming languages, software verification, automated reasoning, and code synthesis.

Piskac joined Yale in 2013 as an assistant professor of computer science. She leads the Rigorous Software Engineering group. A common thread in her research is improving software reliability and trustworthiness using formal techniques. Her work is widely recognized on the international level and she was invited as a keynote speaker at the 25th Static Analysis Symposium and at the International Symposium on Symbolic and Numeric Algorithms for Scientific Computing. In addition, she gave an invited presentation on her research at more than 50 scientific meetings, universities, and industrial labs. Her work on deductive software synthesis was published as a Research Highlight in the Communications of the ACM journal. She was the main organizer of several international conferences and workshops.

One of her projects, for which Piskac received the Facebook Communications and Networking award, is FireMason, the first tool that can not only detect errors in firewall behaviors, but also automatically repair the firewall. Once a computer’s administrator observes problems in a firewall, he or she can provide input/output examples that comply with what they want the firewall to do. Based on the examples given, FireMason automatically synthesizes new rules for the existing firewall. 

Her more recent project is on software synthesis of reactive systems. The goal of software synthesis is to automatically generate code based on a given specification. The user should only describe what the code should do and the synthesis tool will automatically generate the code. Using the idea of separating data and program flow, Piskac and her collaborators pushed further the boundary of programs that can be synthesized. For example, their tools are able to successfully synthesize a controller for an autonomous vehicle simulator.

Among the Yale undergraduate classes she teaches is one on software engineering, where students work in a startup-like environment to create a software product from an idea to its realization and testing it on real customers. After the class some students continue developing their software product further. Three student projects started under Piskac’s supervision were recognized and sponsored by the startup incubator YCombinator. During her six years at Yale, she has supervised more than 50 undergraduate students’ projects. Her teaching at Yale was honored by the 2019 Ackerman Award for Teaching and Mentoring.

On the international level, Piskac has organized numerous mentoring workshops and summer schools, associated with major conferences in her research area.

A graduate of the University of Zagreb (Croatia), Piskac earned a master’s degree in computer science from the Max-Planck-Institut für Informatik (Saarbrücken, Germany) before pursuing her Ph.D. at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Lausanne), where she received the Patrick Denantes Prize for her Ph.D. thesis work. She served as an independent research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems before beginning her academic career at Yale as an assistant professor of computer science. She currently serves on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate.

Piskac has received other awards for her research, including an NSF CAREER award and the Microsoft Research Award for the Software Engineering Innovation Foundation. Her research has been supported by multiple grants from the National Science Foundation.

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