The Many Hats of Hausi Müller

CS Ph.D. alumnus Hausi Müller Hausi Müller has been a software engineering professor at the University of Victoria since he graduated with his Ph.D. in computer science from Rice University in 1986. He’s been a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) even longer.

Müller joined the IEEE in 1979, the same year he began working as a software engineer for ASEA Brown Boveri (ABB) in Switzerland. He then became active in the IEEE Computer Society, where he’s risen to prestigious leadership positions, including membership on the society’s Board of Governors and Vice President of Technical and Conference Activities (2016-18). In 2018, he’s reprising his previous role as technical program co-chair of the IEEE World Forum on Internet of Things (WF-IoT).

Along the way, Müller has launched a startup and and served as its president, founded a new degree program in software engineering at the University of Victoria, and become the university’s Associate Dean for Research Faculty in Engineering. He’s also an avid skier and soccer player, family man, and guitarist.

He is a man of many hats. But when he arrived in Houston from Switzerland in 1982, he felt a little lost in the big city.

Müller said, “I was going to get an M.Sc. degree in Computer Science and go back to industry after one year. I arrived in Houston, but my luggage went straight to Mexico City and all my important papers were in my luggage. I was a rather inexperienced traveler.”

After working for three years at ABB Switzerland following his undergraduate studies in Electrical Engineering, Müller said he wanted to dive more deeply into research, and the graduate degree would help accelerate his career. He felt drawn to the cosmopolitan and international flavor of Houston.

“Rice already had a stellar track record in the early 1980s,” he said. “I liked the idea of a small computer science department surrounded by a city that contained every ethnic group.

“I took five courses in my first term and people thought I was crazy, but it worked out fine. In my second term, I was teaching programming for the department and greatly enjoyed that. I had a lot of programming experience from industry and that helped.”

It was the teaching that caused Müller to reconsider his career plans. He said, “I thought I was really good at teaching, and that turned me around to academia. I also appreciated the freedom to pick what you wanted to work on, research-wise. My Ph.D. supervisors, Ken Kennedy and Robert Hood, gave me a lot of freedom to work in the areas that most intrigued me.”

He also played a lot of soccer, an activity he continues today. “A lot of South Americans play in Houston and their style of play was very different than that of Europe, very beautiful,” he said.

“I remember what great fun it was playing with the South Americans, even in the heat. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, we were playing in 90° F weather and dodging the rain. It was an amazing experience, probably the most fun I’ve had playing soccer ever.”

Somewhere amid playing soccer, exploring Houston, as well as taking and teaching computer science courses, Müller recognized he was not planning to return to an industry career. He wrapped up his Ph.D. degree and looked for faculty positions.

He said, “The opportunity to have the freedom to work on your own projects—plus working with industry—attracted me to academia. Apple came to campus and I got an offer to work on the Apple Lisa project. Maybe it was a mistake, not to take their offer. But I’m not a person who looks back and has regrets for past decisions. I was totally enamored with the Apple Lisa documentation and software, but I had already decided I wanted to go the professorial route. Ken Kennedy was working on several successful IBM research projects. That rubbed off on me and turned me on to working with IBM for most of my academic career.”

As his academic career progressed, so did his research interests. When he arrived at Rice, Müller planned to leverage his industry experience and focus his research on programming environments. His early focus on understanding and analyzing legacy software led to a faculty position at the University of Victoria in Canada and that research direction remained a big part of his career for fifteen years.

“Now, I’m into adaptive systems and situation awareness. Systems where you grab context from anywhere. For example, linking the device in your pocket to geo-locations and data from the web to get a recommendation on the next gas station. We can also use this information to fly autonomously. I’ve worked extensively with adaptive and autonomic systems,” said Müller.

“In one of our systems, we’re trying to reduce food waste. About 40% of the food produced and transferred into developed countries is wasted. How can we address this issue? We’re working on tracking expiration dates, creating systems that recommend recipes based on what you have in your fridge that is about to expire. We’re coming up with an eco-system for grocery stores and integrating it with what you have in your kitchen, grabbing context from lots of different sources. It is an internet of things (IoT) type of application.”

His passion for his research is matched by his enthusiasm for helping others succeed. When he wears the hat of an associate dean, he mentors other faculty members and spends a lot of time fund-raising and making connections.

“What I enjoy the most about that job is helping faculty members getting in touch with industry. I have been around long enough to have a lot of experience, and can help young faculty get started in that area,” he said.

Hausi Müller with graduate students at the University of VictoriaBut his adviser’s cap may be the hat Müller loves most. He said, “By far and away, my best days are those when I’m working with grad students. It is the best experience a professor can have, if it works well. My group usually includes 10-15 grad students, and seeing these students succeed in their own research and their own profession is a joy.”