College of Computing Remembers Mary Jean Harrold

September 24, 2013

Professor Mary Jean Harrold, recognized as one of the world’s leading software engineers as well as a fierce advocate for broadening participation in computing, died following a battle with cancer on Thursday, Sept. 19.

About two dozen of her colleagues at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing attended her memorial service on Monday, Sept. 23, in Huntington, W.V., and remembered her fondly as a dedicated professor, researcher, mentor and friend.

“Mary Jean was not only a great researcher, but also a fantastic human being,” said Alex Orso, associate professor in the School of Computer Science. “She was always happy to help friends, students and colleagues, and her kindness and enthusiasm were contagious. Looking at the messages people posted after hearing of her passing, it is evident that Mary Jean touched many lives over the years. She surely touched my life, and I am a better person for that. I will miss her dearly.”

Harrold was a professor in the School of Computer Science. During her tenure, she founded the Aristotle Research Group, with research focused on the development of efficient techniques and tools to automate software development, testing and maintenance of software systems. Her work on static analysis and software testing, in particular, was recognized by researchers around the world. For this, she was named an ACM fellow in 2003 and an IEEE fellow in 2011; a 2007 CACM article ranked her as the top software engineering researcher in the world.

Her long record of service included leadership roles with ACM SIGSOFT, ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology, ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems and the Computing Research Association (CRA) Board of Directors. She served as general chair of the 2008 ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering, and program co-chair of both the 2001 International Conference on Software Engineering and the 2000 Internatinal Symposium on Software Testing and Analysis. She frequently organized and spoke at doctoral symposia and early faculty mentoring workshops and wrote or co-authored hundreds of academic papers.

Harrold once said the most rewarding part of her job and experiences involved her students and their endless curiosity and drive.

“People have all these expectations all around them: of society, of their peers, of their parents,” she said. “The thing that’s most satisfying to me is to help students expand their expectations of what they can achieve. I want students to understand that they can invent or discover the types of techniques and products that they admire others for inventing or discovering. They need to come to believe that they can do it, too.”

To that end, Harrold served as an advocate for women and minorities in computing fields. From 2001 to 2011, she served as the NSF ADVANCE Professor in the School of Computer Science. She was also a member of the Leadership Team and Director of the Georgia Tech Hub for the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). 

Outside Georgia Tech, Harrold served many years on the CRA’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W), whose goal is to increase the number of women in computer science research and education.  She was instrumental in establishing the biennial Software Engineering Educators' Symposium (SEES), which aims to forge ties between faculty at minority-serving colleges and software engineering researchers.

“Mary Jean cared deeply about the advancement of women in computing,” said Professor Ellen Zegura. “She acted on that at every level, from her interactions with individual students and faculty, to her Institute role as the first Georgia Tech ADVANCE professor in computing, to her involvement in the national efforts of CRA-W, the Computing Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women. Her impact will live on through the many professional lives she touched.”

Survivors include Tom “Fuzzy” Harrold, her husband of 45 years; two sons, Tom and Marc; a daughter-in-law, Linda; four sisters; a brother; and two grandsons, Tommy and Matt. Harrold’s family requested that donations be made in her name to the Emogene Dolin Jones Hospice House in Huntington, W.V.

In addition, Georgia Tech announced this week that it would soon award a Mary Jean Harrold Memorial Fellowship to a deserving student as well as hold a memorial service in Atlanta.