Computer science professor Prem Devanbu was named the winner of the 2021 Outstanding Research Award from the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Software Engineering (ACM SIGSOFT). The Outstanding Research Award is a lifetime achievement award and one of the highest honors in software engineering. Devanbu was cited for “profoundly changing the way researchers think about software by exploring connections between source code and natural language.”
The award recognizes those who have made significant and lasting contributions to the field and practice of software engineering. Devanbu is the 25th recipient and the first Asian to win the award. He will join the ranks of past recipients who include a Turing Award winner, six members of National Academies and several bestselling authors. He will be recognized at the International Conference on Software Engineering in May.
Devanbu is known for his groundbreaking work on the “naturalness” of software. His group at UC Davis was the first to notice the striking parallels between source code and human language, finding that like language, code was highly repetitive and predictable—even more so than English. This opened up a completely new area of research in the field and he has spent the rest of his career exploring the implications.
“My research is very collaborative and interdisciplinary, and that wouldn't be possible without the friendly, collegial, intellectual atmosphere at UC Davis,” he said.
He specifically thanks his former UC Davis collaborators for their contributions to the work cited on this award—Abram Hindle, now a Professor at University Alberta; Earl Barr, a professor at University College, London; and Zhendong Su, a professor at ETH, Zurich—as well as the National Science Foundation for its support.
The work has continued at UC Davis in collaboration with Emily Morgan, Kenji Sagae, and Raul Aranovich of the Department of Linguistics, and Zhou Yu and Vladimir Filkov in the Department of Computer Science.
“Doing good research in engineering is all about having great colleagues,” he said.
Devanbu received his B. Tech in electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and his M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science at Rutgers University. He also previously worked as a technical staff member at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories. He joined UC Davis in 1997 and now co-directs the Davis Excellent/Eclectic/Extreme Computational Analytics Lab, or DECAL Lab, with Filkov.
The Outstanding Research Award adds to Devanbu’s growing list of accolades. He is an ACM Fellow and has received seven best paper awards and five test-of-time/most influential paper honors for work with a lasting impact. He continues to produce award-winning work not only in the “naturalness” of software, but also mining software repositories and bug prediction, causes and solutions.
ACM is the world’s largest computing society, boasting 100,000 members worldwide. It brings together educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. SIGSOFT is one of 37 special interest groups within ACM, focusing on all aspects of software development and maintenance.