Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jennifer Rexford's take on "Practical Theory"

Jennifer Rexford, who I've mentioned before is a networking person who appreciates theory, gave me a rumor that she'll be giving a talk at STOC on "networking questions relevant to the theoretical CS community." I don't see the program up yet, but I hope it's true. She's a great speaker, with excellent perspective. Kudos to those who thought to invite her!!!

She also pointed me to an editorial she wrote on her ten favorite "practical theory" papers. Naturally, I enjoyed reading her perspective. Particularly since her perspective included my name (flattery, indeed, will you get you everywhere-- or at least on my blog).

I think, however, her editorial offers several lessons. Here's my top two. First, her notion of a theory paper is a little different than ours. Most of the papers are by networking people who think mathematically and theoretically (Varghese, Towsley) or more attuned to what I think of as EE theory. This first lesson is a reaffirmation of my long-standing notion that the FOCS/STOC view of theory is, in many respects, rather limited, especially to our peers outside of theory. I think a second related lesson goes to the importance of theory people getting out there and making their work more accessible to non-theorists. In my case, that has meant writing survey articles, giving talks for general audiences and not just theorists, and going to networking conferences to talk about my work. I'm sure there's plenty of other "mainstream theory" work that Jennifer and others from networking would greatly appreciate -- if only we as a community did a bit better job of letting them know about it.


Arvind Narayanan said...

Well, she implies in the first paragraph that the survey is limited to networking research, and not all of theory. Further, given the audience for the essay, that can be assumed to be the case anyway. So i'm not sure how justified your first conclusion is.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link professor. For those of us who punch the clock, it's nice to get an experts round up of interesting papers.

Anonymous said...

As someone who began academic life in EE but currently holding a faculty position in Informatics, and with an interest in math and algorithms, I have always been amazed by the glass barrier between CS theorists and EE theorists. It seems to me that there are plenty of interesting problems that would arise from the marriage of the two... so I hope that your call for a broader reading of the term "theory" is heeded by more people.