Dr. Emad Shihab is an internationally recognized leader in software engineering, specializing in mining software repositories to improve software quality.
“At the core of my research is the concept of learning from the past to predict the future,” says Shihab. “In other words, our future decisions are driven by what we’ve done in the past. By looking back at data, you can identify future trends and their impact.”
Discovering his love for software engineering
Growing up, software engineering was not on Shihab’s radar as a career focus. After coming to Canada with his family when he was 10 years old, he set his focus on following in his parents’ footsteps by becoming a medical doctor.
“It was a bit of childhood dream to become a doctor. It’s funny. You plan your life in a certain way, but you can end up someplace else. It was an accident to find myself with a PhD in software engineer, but it was best the thing that happened to me.”
Shihab accepted an offer from the University of Victoria; however, the science program was already at capacity, so they recommended he go into electrical engineering.
“It was so, so tough,” says Shihab. “I was 18, and away from home in a new place and not in the course that I was expecting. After my first year, I put so much work into it. I ended up falling in love with engineering.”
During four consecutive work terms at BlackBerry, Shihab discovered his passion for software engineering.
“I never intended to go into software engineering. I fell in love with it while I was at BlackBerry. The work just made sense. When I went back to school, I decided to do a master’s degree in computer engineering and computer networks.”
Shihab’s path changed again when he began to work on his PhD. He had planned to concentrate on distributing systems. Instead, he zeroed in on software engineering.
Building a career
After completing his PhD, Shihab spent two years at the Rochester Institute of Technology before joining Concordia University in 2014 as an Assistant Professor. In May 2020, Shihab was named as the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.
“I’m very proud to be part of the Gina Cody School – the largest Engineering and Computer Science Faculty in Quebec and one of the largest in Canada. I have a group of 15 brilliant students and very much enjoy research and working with graduate students – they are my everyday inspiration. When I recruit new students, I look at their motivation. Why are they going into grad school? If they have the passion, I can teach them everything else. I try to emphasize that there needs to be a practical aspect of any research project. How is it useful to everyday developers? Not everything has to be applicable, but there has to be a path to practicality.”
He also wants his students to be ready to guide and teach others by the time they complete their PhD.
“They need to be able to generate new ideas and not just publish papers or run experiments. They will be influencing the next generation of creative researchers and creative professors.”
The value of support
Shihab is thrilled to be recognized as an Outstanding Young Researcher by CS Can.
“When I was nominated, I did not expect to win. There are so many other deserving researchers out there, especially in Canada, which is one of the top places in the world for software engineering. To be recognized here is very much an honor and very humbling. Having a supportive family, wife students and colleagues made all the difference. Ahmed Hassan was my supervisor at Queen’s University and my super hero. He won this award in the past, so to follow in his path is a huge personal accomplishment.”
Shihab also hopes that he can set an example for his children and students and encourage them as much as his parents and his supervisor encouraged him.
“I also feel this is an opportunity to set an example for my children, who are 10, 8 and 4. They are starting to show an interest and like education. I will be supporting them in whatever they want to do.”