In this episode, Rashmi Mohan welcomes ACM Fellow and past ACM-W Athena Lecturer Jennifer Widom, the Frederick Emmons Terman Dean of the School of Engineering and Fletcher Jones Professor in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. Widom has made significant contributions to databases and data science. She’s a member of the NAE and AAAS, a Guggenheim Fellow, and recipient of the ACM SIGMOD Edgar F. Codd Innovations Award and EPFL-WISH Foundation Erna Hamburger Prize. Widom has co-authored textbooks widely used for teaching database systems design, use, and implementation, served as editor of top academic journals, and keynoted and chaired major conferences, such as SIGMOD and VLDB.
She discusses her unconventional journey from undergraduate music performance major to computer science doctoral student and researcher at IBM’s Almaden lab, where her interest in databases and information management was cemented. Widom looks back on the heyday of Massively Open Online Courses, when her “Introduction to Databases” class had more than 100,000 enrolled students, and describes some of the challenges that have prevented MOOCs from truly upending higher education. She also describes her unusual sabbatical spent traveling the world and teaching free classes in databases and data science in developing countries, and offers bits of wisdom for those looking for similar experiences.