An Academy of Informatics

The Informatics building on the Lugano campus
The Informatics building on the Lugano campus

Institutional Communication Service

17 January 2018

Prof. Michele Lanza, Pro-Rector of USI and Director of the USI Software Institute (and former Dean of the Faculty of Informatics), shares with us "his" Faculty and the spirit that has defined it since its creation, in 2004.

Almost 15 years ago, our Faculty gave its first lectures, and I would like to share a story that happened just a couple of years ago and that, in my view, well underlines who we are and what we are doing. The setting is an informal dinner in a small restaurant in San Francisco, which is right next to the so-called ‘Silicon Valley’. At the table, a group of individuals whose stories are linked to Ticino and our university, including myself, professors and colleagues Antonio Carzaniga and Mehdi Jazayeri (both co-founders of the Faculty) and a few alumni with prestigious positions in the field: Marco Primi (at first with Apple, now he is at Netflix), Cyrus Hall (Twitch, a Silicon Valley start-up bought by Amazon in 2014 for almosto one billion dollars), Lile Hattori (Microsoft at Redmond), and professors Romain Robbes and Alberto Bacchelli (Santiago del Cile and, resp., University of Zurich). We were joined by other alumni who, after their experience at USI, are now leading researchers all over the world: Mircea Lungo at the University of Groeningen, Alessandra Gorla at the IMDEA Software Institute in Madrid, Alessio Gambi at the University of Vienna, Domenico Bianculli at the University of Luxembourg, and Jochen Wuttke who, after a few years at the University of Washington in Seattle, is now at Google. There was also Anja Guzzi, who at the time was a Ph.D. student at Delft University and who is today happly married to Prof. Bacchelli.

It is important to indicate these and other names, because the spirit of this Faculty since its inception is based on the personal and genuine sharing of our common passion for Informatics. That dinner in California with our graduates, who come from and are active in many different places, well illustrates our dynamic and international drive, which has led us to reach objectives hardly thinkable of over a decade ago. 

Our Faculty has since become an important element, with USI as a whole, of the economy of the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and of the international academic sector. The amount of competitive research funds that our Faculty manages to gather (around 52 million Swiss francs in fourteen years) is growing constantly and represent a considerable share of all the competitive research funds at USI. The impact factor of our work is measurable on a global scale: for instance, according to the Microsoft Academic Alliance, our Faculty, in the field of software engineering, is ranked top 20 worldwide and top 10 in Europe. According to CSRankings, the system ranking Faculties of Informatics around the world according to their research achievements, USI is second in Europe in the Software Engineering area. Last, but not least, our students too are involved in the international awarding arena: in 2017, a group of USI undergraduate students in Informatics came in fifth (of 77) at the International Collegiate Programming Contest, the prestigious European programming contest organised in Paris by Télécom ParisTech and Ecole normale supérieure. 

As far as teaching is concerned, we train our students – coming from all four corners of the planet – to become qualified and skilled professionals. Many of them, unfortunately, find employment abroad or in other parts of Switzerland. Our hope is to create the ideal conditions for enabling innovation and to grow start-up companies. This will take time, but we already can see the first results of our work and, in this view, USI’s move towards ‘hard science’ was correct, wise and visionary. 

However, my biggest dream, which at the time I shared with the first President of USI Marco Baggiolini, is making our Faculty a true ‘Academy of Informatics’. A unique place with a strong symbiotic spirit and where research and teaching are rooted in the principle of quality. USI provides an ideal venue to reach this goal: it is a relatively small university, quick in reacting and deciding, and with many individuals who share our spirit. We are determined to ensure that this spirit will continue to guide us in the future as well.