For Black History Month, CSE Spotlights Faculty and Alumni in Academia

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Marcus Darden | Odest Chadwicke Jenkins | Jason Mars
Kyla McMullen | James Mickens | Kunle Olukotun

James Mickens

James Mickens (PhD CSE '08) is currently an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University. His research focuses on the security and performance of large-scale web services.

James Mickens

While growing up in Atlanta, Mickens recognized the importance of making connections with a diverse set of people. As one of the only black kids in his private school, he had to learn how to engage and connect with different people, and he realized that it is possible to make connections with almost anyone. As a professor, Mickens enjoys mentoring students from all backgrounds, and helping them to improve both their technical skills, and the "soft" skills which are needed to make effective presentations and succeed in interviews.

Mickens received his B.A in Computer Science from The Georgia Institute of Technology in 2001 and went on to U-M to receive his PhD in CSE. He completed his dissertation entitled, “Exploiting Host Availability in Distributed Systems," under the guidance of Prof. Brian Noble. While at U-M, Mickens was notorious for scheduling his thesis defense in the early hours of the morning so that nobody would attend it. After graduate school, Mickens went to Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA, where he spent six years as a member of the Distributed Systems group. At MSR, he performed research, collaborated with product groups, and supervised interns who later became professors and developers at top universities and technology companies.

During the Fall 2014 semester, he was a Visiting Professor at MIT, working with the Parallel and Distributed Operating Systems group and in Fall 2015, he became an Associate Professor at Harvard.

James Mickens presenting at NDC Sydney 2016

One of his most recent research projects focused on increasing the speed of web pages by using fine-grained dependency tracking. Mickens and his collaborators created Polaris, which is a dynamic client-side scheduler that uses fine-grained dependency graphs to dynamically determine which objects to load, and when.

Outside of teaching, Mickens presents at a number of conferences, including his most recent one at NDC Sydney 2016, where he talked about his life as a developer. He also plays in two heavy metal bands and writes satirical blogs about technology.

For MLK day in 2015, Mickens participated in Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), where he discussed the underrepresentation of minorities in STEM fields. There, he was able to have an open discussion about some of the underlying issues that may have an impact of the number of minorities in computer science. He discussed the importance of being prepared and focused during class and interviews and having good mentors/role models, but he also pointed out that being well connected in the field can have a big affect on students’ career goals. He also made some suggestions on what to do inside the tech world to help solve the under-representation of minorities, including being aware of these biases and anonymizing the hiring process.

Posted: February 3, 2017