Barbara Liskov

“Modularity based on abstraction is the way things get done.”

Quick Facts

Born: 1939

Nationality: American

Occupation: Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ford Professor of Engineering in its School of Engineering’s electrical engineering and computer science department.

Known for: Being one of the first women to obtain a PhD in computer science and receive the Turing Award

Childhood and Education

Barbara Liskov was born in Los Angeles. She studied for her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1961 with a BA in mathematics. She did not immediately go into postgraduate education but took up work at Mitre Corporation in Boston and then at Harvard University. During her brief professional experience she became interested in computers and programming. She decided to continue her education and enrolled on a postgraduate degree in computer science at Stanford University. There she worked on artificial intelligence and was supported by John McCarthy. She completed her degree in 1968, becoming one of the first women in the US to be awarded a PhD in computer science.  


Having been awarded her PhD, Barbara returned to the Mitre Corporation where she worked on operating systems and computer design. One of her most significant pieces of work there was the Venus operating system – a multiprogramming operating system allowing several people to use the same machine simultaneously. She also published the paper “The design of the Venus operating system” which explains its design and development. In 1971 Liskov left Mitre Corporation to accept the job as professor in the Laboratory of Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she designed programming languages CLU and Argos, significantly contribution to the development of object oriented programming. She also performed research on distributed systems and together with Jeannette Wing she developed Liskov substitution principle – an important concept in object-oriented programming.  Currently Barbara Liskov works at MIT, where she is highly respected. Her most recent research is focused on distributed computing and Bizantyne fault tolerance. She has published over a hundred papers and a few books. She has also supervised a number of postgraduate students. She is considered a pioneer in object-oriented programming. 

Awards and Achievements 

  • Member of the National Academy of Engineers and the National Academy of Science 
  • Fellow of the Association for the Computing Machinery 
  • Named one of the top 50 sciences faculty member in the US (2002) 
  • John von Neumann medal in 2004 for her contribution to programming methodology and distributed systems 
  • Turing Award in 2008 for her contribution to the development of object-oriented programming 


  • Barbara Liskov applied to Princeton University for her postgraduate degree, but was rejected because the institution did not accept women at that time.