Heidy Khlaaf, Research-Intern

Heidy KhlaafWhat did you dream you would be when you were younger?
As a young child, I aspired to be an Olympic swimmer. I started competitive swimming at the age of four, and competed on a National level till the age of twelve. My interests drastically changed and I became heavily involved with Philosophy and the Arts. I began questioning every aspect of my environment, while aspiring to design, create, and innovate. Little did I know that it was the creative process involved in Computer Science that would push me to pursue a Computer Science degree alongside Philosophy.

Why did you become a researcher and how did you go about becoming a one?
After taking my first programming course in university, it occurred to me that a crucial amount of creativity is required to solve computational puzzles. Not only was it fulfilling to logically question the problem at hand, a process similar to philosophical reasoning, but the various creative ways to approach a problem was thrilling. Research seemed to be the most logical choice given my desire to create and innovate, as it is by far one of the most creative processes I have ever been involved in. Also, not many people understand the extent of which Philosophy and Computer Science research are connected, as this has always been a factor that has driven me towards research. I began by doing research in Artificial Intelligence as an undergraduate, a typical path for a Computer Science/Philosophy double major. But as I learned more about the field, my interests clearly developed and changed. I had multiple assistantships and internships as an undergraduate, and will be pursuing a PhD in Computer Science starting September 2013.

What's it like working at Microsoft Research and what do you do?
Microsoft Research is by far the best environment I have ever worked in. There is a numerous range of fascinating research projects that one can work on, as well as no restrictions on potential intellectual pursuits. I find that the flexibility and freedom that the researchers have to pursue their research passions fosters an intimate environment ideal for collaboration and innovation. As a young researcher, I get the opportunity to learn a significant amount from the brilliant researchers I work with. It’s quite rewarding.

I work as part of the Principles of Programming Languages and Tools group, and I’m advised by Byron Cook. Generally speaking, I am working on Temporal Property Verification in which I aim to improve the automated reasoning and deduction process utilizing temporal property specification to insure that a software system behaves properly in terms of functionality and the absence of bugs. More specifically, I’m currently working on discovering scalable methods for checking temporal properties for infinite-state transition systems. Current temporal logic verification tools use naïve techniques that do not scale well when attempting to prove complex temporal formulas or when programs are large. Through adapting methods drawn from abduction, interpolation, and precondition synthesis, I am constructing an algorithm that more effectively shares intermediate results and intelligently mixes bottom-up and top-down techniques.

What are your aspirations within your role?
I hope to advance the state-of-the-art in Formal Verification through discovering the intersection between theory and practical application. More often than not, there are feasible theoretical advancements in verification, yet no usable tools which properly adopt these theories. Bridging the gap between theory and practice is the ultimate goal.

How has working at Microsoft Research affected your career/research goals?
It has opened many doors of opportunity for me, both career wise and research wise. The fact that I interact with researchers who produce cutting-edge research has not only taught me a significant amount about my research, but has helped me become well connected within the research community.

Tell us an unusual/interesting fact about yourself?
Although I was born in the states, I lived in Egypt from the ages of two to ten. Most people can’t tell that my first language was actually Arabic, and not English.