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Past Winner
2018 NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

School of Computing

Queen’s University

Software is woven into our society, making our daily lives easier and more organized … until something goes wrong. Basic tasks such as tweeting, texting or Skyping are done through simple user interfaces that hide complex software-intensive platforms called ultra-large-scale (ULS) systems. Millions of people depend on ULS systems such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and PayPal every day, so when one of them has a technical hiccup, it becomes breaking news around the world. And yet current approaches for building and operating these enormously complex systems are usually ad hoc, leading to wasted resources and increased costs for developers. The ULS software industry is in vital need of fact-based decision-support systems to minimize developer risk and maximize user experience.

Ahmed Hassan, a software analytics researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, is improving the way that ULS systems are built and operated. Hassan and his team are using machine learning and data-mining techniques to dig into the rich, yet rarely explored, stores of information associated with these systems. The team analyzes not only the computer code of these ULS systems, but also every piece of information gathered during their development and operation: design notes, prior code changes, user reviews, debugging histories, logs and emails. This comprehensive investigation of information sources reveals issues and opportunities that would be completely missed otherwise — for example, which kinds of updates are most likely to introduce bugs or upset users.

Hassan’s solutions have already been adopted in industry sectors throughout Canada and internationally. Thanks to his research, ULS developers are gaining a greater clarity about their software, providing them with intelligent solutions that ensure critical ULS systems are sustainable, reliable and enjoyable. What does that mean for the rest of us? Better user experiences. Less crashing in our apps. Fewer glitches on our websites. And no fear of missing out on our friends’ updates on social media.

Ahmed Hassan
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