Conducting Impact-Focused Industrial Research

David Shepherd

Event Details
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
4 p.m., 115 Avery Hall

3:30 p.m., 348 Avery Hall

David Shepherd

Senior Principal Scientist & Research Area Coordinator, ABB Corporate Research


In his classic letter to US President Harry Truman titled "Science, The Endless Frontier" Vannevar Bush argued that basic research was necessary for society's progress. His passionate plea was heeded; in 1950 President Truman signed a law creating the National Science Foundation, which has since funded 24% of the basic research conducted in US colleges and universities. Yet Bush's legacy also has a dark side. Its exclusive focus on basic research devalued applied research. As can be seen in Software Engineering, the rush towards fundamental work led to a huge disconnect between academic research and industrial practice.

Fortunately, there is a well-trodden path forward. Drawing from lessons in Donald Stokes' book "Pasteur's Quadrant – Basic Science and Technological Innovation" I will illustrate the differences between the pure basic research currently embodied in academia, pure applied research found mainly in startups, and rare use-inspired research found most often in industrial research. Using deep dives into my own projects and referencing other relevant examples I will argue that, for our field to achieve the fullest impact, we need more use-inspired researchers.

Speaker Bio

David C. Shepherd is a Senior Principal Scientist & Research Area Coordinator with ABB Corporate Research where he conducts research on topics from developer productivity to end-user programming for robots. He is passionate about increasing the impact of software engineering research, which has manifested itself in his professional activities. His day job serves as a ongoing personal experiment on how to, and how not to, transfer technology. His open source work has created a  tool downloaded by 47,000+ developers. His recent chairing of five industrial tracks in software engineering (e.g., ICSE, FSE, ICPC, SANER, ICSME) gave him deep insight into the challenges and successes of others' transfer efforts. His recent project, the FlowLight, which had exposure on venues like The Wall Street Journal and BBC Radio, opened his eyes to the impact of popular publications. Finally, his position as the Co-Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Systems and Software gives him a more permanent platform to encourage industrial publications. David's career goal is: To be a champion of impact through service and an example of impact through projects.