Sputnik, the very first artificial satellite, was launched from Kazakhstan almost a half-century ago. This unexpected event sent shockwaves through the US’s math-science public education establishment. George Hacken was in high school, and was lucky enough to pass the exam for a Sputnik-inspired extracurricular IBM/Joe Berg Foundation course in discrete math (whose textbook was Kemeny, Snell, and Thomson’s Finite mathematics). As must be true of many CR readers, he never got over it, that is, over logic and discrete math.
He majored in physics (AB and PhD) at Columbia, where he stayed on as a researcher until 1976, and enjoyed with fellow students and post-docs the reflected glory of his thesis sponsor’s 1975 Nobel Prize. (Professor James Rainwater had him pegged from the beginning as a computer geek, and George did his best to be useful as a discrete math, computational complement of his awesome physico-geometric intuition.)
His first program (1962, Fortran II, IBM 1620) was a multidimensional constrained minimization problem; it was a lesson par excellence in the downright practicality of trying to “get it right the first time” — a personal augury of formal methods. The year 1976 saw another defining moment: he serendipitously came upon E.W. Dijkstra’s A discipline of programming. He had, by then, written approximately 5,000 programs, the later ones for a special, scientific model of the IBM 360, the 44, and all in connection with physics research. Dijkstra’s masterpiece changed his life, as it changed the lives of many others.
Career progression, not necessarily logical but certainly chronological, saw computing venues in telephone company rate-structure calculations; computations of credit card delinquency risk; flight simulation; factory-automation and sawmill process control; radiation-dosimetry safety-critical database work; and railroad-car brake control. These projects were followed by a 15-year aerospace defense stint at Singer-Kearfott/Plessey/GEC-Marconi, where embedded computers effected guidance, navigation, and control, and command, control, communications, and intelligence. There was also a concurrent activity as adjunct professor of computer science at William Paterson University.
Great respect for the expertise of the late Austin J. Maher (his boss and mentor at Singer-Kearfott) led to Hacken’s minimal resistance in joining Maher and the Council of Defense And Space Industries (CODSIA) government industry group in the collective creation of DoD-Std-2167, Defense System Software Development, which is fairly characterized as one of the precursors of the Capability-Maturity Model (CMM). This was a most natural segue, seven years later, into the job as CMM process lead in the company’s GEC-Marconi incarnation.
Seven years ago, Hacken started his current job as Senior Director of Vital [a.k.a. Safety-Critical] Systems Integrity at MTA/New York City Transit, where formal methods are being applied in the design, certification, and implementation of processor-based train control technologies. A most rewarding part of his job is the creation and execution of an in-house safety-critical systems design and certification course. He is, in addition to being an ACM and IEEE member, greatly informed by membership in the New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Xi, and the American Mathematical Society.
By the way, he was born in Kazakhstan, but that’s another story.