Patrick Lam

Thoughts and travels of Patrick Lam

(Last updated January 2020).


I’ve been at the University of Waterloo since January 2008, now as Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. I’ve also served as Director and Associate Director of the Software Engineering program.

The goal of my research is to help developers state and verify key properties of their software; I apply static analysis techniques to software engineering problems.

In 2007, I was a postdoc at McGill University’s School of Computer Science, working with the late Laurie Hendren, Eric Bodden, and the Sable research group. For many years before that, I was a PhD student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, working with Martin Rinard, Viktor Kuncak, and others.

OK, how was MIT?

This seems to be a frequently asked question: many people are curious to know what it's like to be at MIT.

I enjoyed being at MIT; as an institution, it is extremely good (although not quite peerless) at collecting smart people. No, I didn't find it to be insanely competitive. On the other hand, I do not have an insecurity complex. Interpret my answer accordingly.

Six and a half years of graduate school (2000-2006), though, is a long time (but standard in my group). I am definitely glad to be done, and the thesis flashbacks are tapering off. I am especially thrilled to be back in Canada, a country from which I cannot be deported.

Related question: How was the Stata Center?

I liked the space a lot. We had an office (32-G730) in the Stata Center (occupants: Viktor Kuncak, Karen Zee, Brian Demsky, Alex Salcianu, Darko Marinov, and myself), so we didn't have to deal with the open-plan office issues. I especially liked two things about it: 1) natural sunlight; and 2) lack of white noise. These were my two biggest complaints about our previous building, 200 Technology Square. A stated goal of the Stata Center was to encourage collaboration, and its design does seem to succeed at that goal: the numerous lounges are great places to sit and think (even if the furniture started out as being rock-hard).

However, the building has to not only work as a social space, but also as a building. In particular, buildings are required to keep the water out, to have level floors, and to have working bathrooms. While I understand that new buildings must generally be debugged to keep the water out, it seemed that the Stata Center failed at keeping water out for longer than necessary, and when I visited in 2007, I still found broken bathrooms and non-level floors. A building may be innovative, but it must work.

Comparison to the Davis Center at Waterloo (my current building)

Unfortunately, the hallway generates a lot of white noise, which enters my office if I keep my door open (and I like to keep my door open!). Not all hallways have white noise, just ours. I don't know why. The windows seem to block more light than is necessary, although at least they let in some light. It seems that the open spaces in DC do work to some extent: the atrium gets semi-regular events (e.g. our Fourth Year Design Symposium, among others), and people do hang out in the public spaces. Unfortunately, the open spaces don't work nearly as well as those in Tech Square or in the Stata Center. I think that the open spaces are too far, too open (vs. Tech Square and Stata, whose spaces are semi-open), and they lack writing surfaces.


Since I do not watch TV, I have tons of free time for hobbies. You will find pictures of me participating in my hobbies in my gallery.

  • Judo: I regularly go and beat people up. I compete in tournaments, including the 2008 Senior National Championships, in the -60kg weight category. Past results include bronze medals at the World Veterans championships, Veterans Nationals, Quebec provincial championships (2007, 2008) and at the 2008 Liberty Bell tournament. Somehow there are a lot of bronze medals in my collection. Maybe I'll get a better medal before I retire. I am a 4rd degree black belt. I also referee, and my referee grade is "National A".
  • Rock Climbing: I have been climbing for fifteen years, but of course one is never as good as one wishes.
  • Skiing (all kinds): A more fundamental disadvantage of Kitchener-Waterloo, and of Ontario in general, is the lack of mountains. I like to ski bumps and trees, and am fairly competent at skiing on downhill gear. I've been learning to ski on telemark gear, and skiied the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt. I also should go cross-country skiing more often, but I always get blisters on the back of my feet.
  • Hiking: I have climbed all 48 of the 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire. I led a couple of trips for the MIT Outing Club, including some Winter School trips (MITOC Winter School is amazing: learn how to do winter trips during IAP!). Again, no mountains here in Ontario, alas.
  • Free Software: I used to contribute to free software. It would be nice if I had time to do that.

Not quite a hobby: I get around town by bicycle. I don't like rain.

Brief life history

Born in Montreal and lived there for 22 years. Got a BSc in math and computer science and an MSc in computer science at McGill. Went to MIT for 6.5 years and got a PhD. Achiever-type person. Hope to convince Marie-Pascale to like Waterloo, which admittedly is nowhere near as nice as Montreal.

Provinces visited: All but Saskatchewan and Manitoba.