Foutse Khomh, Polytechnique Montréal
Dr. Foutse Khomh was only 16 years old when he started university. He excelled early thanks to the support of his parents, who were teachers. With a mathematics professor as a father, Khomh had the advantage of always knowing what to expect for his mathematics courses at the beginning of the year.
“My father was my first mentor. I always looked up to him,” says Khomh. “He was my math hero.”
Having enjoyed building and repairing things from a young age, Khomh planned on a career path in engineering. But it is only after starting University and discovering computers and the internet that he took the entrance exam to enter engineering. Working on computers and discovering the internet triggered his decision to enroll in engineering program in parallel to his mathematics studies. Khomh earned a Master’s degree in Software Engineering, but not before completing both an undergraduate and graduate degree in Mathematics from the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon. It was by participating in international software engineering and entrepreneurship competitions in Seattle that convinced Khomh to pursue a career in research.
“All the exposure during the competitions struck the desire for more. I became interested in doing more – so that’s how I decided to enroll for a PhD in Computer Science.”
After completing his PhD at the University of Montreal and a stint as a Research Fellow at Queen’s University, Khomh moved to Polytechnique Montréal, where he is a full professor. While researching design patterns at the University of Montréal, Khomh began to recognize that the practical application of design patterns could lead developers away from good design.
“I started to expand my research to include design practices. I discovered that by looking at how developers build, we could understand the pain points in the development cycle – where they struggle and where they make bad decisions and what triggers those bad decisions. By looking at the context in which they are more likely to make those bad decisions, we could understand what was needed to support them. What kind of resources do they need? What kind of tools do they need? By building those tools to help them anticipate the issues and detect errors earlier, we can help them avoid bad practices.”
Khomh latest research is in the area of testing systems powered by machine learning. While this research promises to keep him focused and busy for the foreseeable future, he also takes time to be a valuable mentor and teacher for his students. His passion for teaching was recognized in 2016 with the Best Graduate Teaching Award by Polytechnique Montréal.
“I have a simple philosophy when I teach. I want students to grow in their knowledge. I always try to ground them in the research to get them passionate about how the concept can solve real world problems. I’m lucky because I teach engineering, so it’s easy to tie the concept to problem solving and show students how we apply them. I believe in teaching by example. I think that is the best way of learning. They master the concept by trying and failing and getting advice and looking at alternate solutions.”
When asked about the future of his research, Khomh would like to contribute to computing in a fundamental way. He wants to contribute to helping to build better software.
“In my research, I’m always excited when the tools we build in our lab end up being used to produce more reliable software – that’s the outcome I expect from my research – that’s why I spend time with my industrial collaboration. It’s rewarding – it exposes you to real world problems. That’s something that’s critical for me.”
Khomh is also passionate about education and would like to help demystify software engineering in a way so that it is considered an essential skill.
“I want to teach and inspire people to get into computing and take advantage of software tools and unleash their creativity.”
Khomh credits his mentors for his success. His late father, Foutse Abraham along with his PhD advisor, Prof. Yann-Gaël Guéhéneuc and his postdoc supervisors Prof. Ying Zou and Prof. Ahmed E. Hassan, were the people who inspired him to pursue a career in science and research.
For Khomh, being recognized as an Outstanding Young Researcher is humbling and rewarding.
“It’s an honour. The Canadian computing scene is amazing. I just wanted to try to pursue some passions. I never imagined this recognition.”