Alumnus named top innovator

Seth Hallem ’97 made the MIT Technology Review magazine annual list of the top 35 leading young innovators for his work in the field of computer science. The October 2008 issue of the Technology Review featured profiles on Hallem and 34 other innovators under 35 years old that were chosen from a pool of 300 nominees by a panel of experts based on their accomplishments as researchers, inventors or entrepreneurs.

Hallem’s claim to fame was improving an approach to finding bugs in a computer program. His new technology can locate problematic combinations of code within a program by simulating how the program will behave.

“Our innovation analyzes a piece of software and uncovers flaws in that software that will cause crashes, unintended behaviors or security issues,” Hallem said. “Our innovation can simulate the future behaviors of the software while programmers are creating it and we can uncover programmer mistakes before the software is completed and delivered to customers.”

Hallem and his colleagues were well acquainted with the difficulties of building complex software that is also free of errors.

“Software failures are caused by logic errors that programmers make while creating a piece of software,” Hallem said. “Because of the huge complexity of today’s software, it is impossible for a programmer to create software without making errors of this type.”

Together with his colleagues, Hallem vowed to create a technology that would help eradicate software failures.

“These days software is all around us – in our cars, our mobile phones, our iPods, our televisions, our airplanes and even [in artificial pacemakers] in our bodies,” Hallem said. “Once you understand that in today’s world there literally is no perfect software, you realize there is a dire need for innovation in the tools that programmers use.”

Hallem said that he was very much into mathematics and sciences at Harvard-Westlake. One of his favorite teachers was Mr. Nealis, who taught him in both Calculus BC and AP Economics classes. Hallem graduated from Stanford University in 2001 and is now the CEO of Coverity Inc., which he and his colleagues founded in San Francisco in November 2002.

The technology that had its beginning at the Computer Systems Laboratory at Stanford University is now being adapted and marketed on a large scale through Coverity. Coverity’s technology is used to detect errors in anything from operating systems to medical devices to gaming devices. Coverity has accumulated an extensive list of customers, including Yahoo!, Samsung, Sega, Philips, and Texas Instruments.

“At Coverity, we have continued to innovate in building unique tools that help software programmers build software that really works,” Hallem said. “We have a great team at Coverity that continues to build unique, groundbreaking technology.”

Hallem sees the recognition from The Technology Review as a manifestation of all his hard work over the past few years.

“More than anything, the award is a reflection of the collaborative research environment that I came out of at Stanford and the success that we have had at Coverity in commercializing our innovation,” Hallem said. “I see it as both an honor personally and an honor to my colleagues.”