In our current stress and uncertainty it can help to hear good news that lifts one’s spirits. Accordingly, we were thrilled to learn that Pat Hanrahan and Ed Catmull will receive the 2019 ACM Turing Award, often referred to as the “Nobel Prize” of Computer Science. While the award citation focuses on Pat and Ed’s ground-breaking contributions to computer graphics—including computer-generated imagery in filmmaking—the significance of the award has a more personal meaning for me.
When I joined Stanford Computer Science as an assistant professor, I was lucky to have Pat as my faculty mentor. I was finding my “sea legs” as a new faculty member: learning how to simultaneously manage research projects, advise students, and teach classes, all the while trying not to get overwhelmed. Pat was always generous with his time, consistently sharing his kindness, support, and (of course) insightful conversations on future research directions. Those conversations deeply influenced many of our subsequent projects, including visualization languages such as D3 and Vega.
Pat similarly had a direct influence on our work at Trifacta. In addition to his own research on visualization and co-founding Tableau (a Trifacta partner), Pat was a member of my co-founder Sean Kandel’s Ph.D. committee, sharing feedback on our Data Wrangler research. When we decided to commercialize the work and found Trifacta, true to form Pat was again generous with his time and advice, helping us to navigate the waters of the tech industry and venture capital. He has since continued to share his insights with us, including through “fireside chats” with the company.
While major scientific awards often focus on a specific contribution, they can also play an important role in highlighting individuals who have not only made long-lasting intellectual contributions, but who have helped inspire and support the people around them. We at Trifacta are delighted to share our heartfelt congratulations, and gratitude, with Pat!