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330 West Village H
Boston, MA 02115


  • BS in English, University of Utah

About Me

  • Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Field of Study: Programming Languages
  • PhD Advisor: Jan Vitek


Celeste Hollenbeck is a PhD student studying programming languages at Northeastern University’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences, advised by Professor Jan Vitek. She is interested in combining machine learning with program analysis in new and creative ways, technical communication, and elaborate whiteboard art.

What are the specifics of your graduate education (thus far)?

I tried out high-performance computing, parsing, and some static analysis before I came to Northeastern. Further in, I started studying machine learning; I wanted to see if I could apply it to a static analysis for malware detection. Some of that carries over into the work that I am doing now, but to different ends.

What are your research interests?

I’m interested in combining weird, difficult things that other people would try to avoid. A fellow student looked at my schedule once and said, “Why would you take that class? That’s a GPA killer!” I think making scary, divergent things play together gives us new, surprising, bizarre results—which is good.

Was I always into machine learning, computational topology, program analysis, etc.? Of course not—I started out post-undergrad wanting to be the next Stephen King! I avoid having a means-ends approach to life; you can miss several opportunities by being close-minded.

What aspect of what you do is most interesting?

Right now, I’m combining machine learning and program analysis with JavaScript! That sentence would make some of my purist labmates cringe, but I love being brutally pragmatic. It’s the language I’m analyzing—the one I’m trying to improve—so I’m getting really friendly with it.

What are your research or career goals, going forward?

I’m brand new at Northeastern, so I’m taking it one step at a time. Step one: be able to walk into a classroom without fear of being found out as a fraud. I’ve been in computer science about four years, and that’s still hard. But at this point, they’ll have to drag me out kicking and screaming. (I think that’s why they want me to choose four committee members—just one or two isn’t enough to pick me up and hurl me out the door, if things go south. I won’t make it easy for them.)

Where did you grow up or spend your most defining years?

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, but I worked all around the country for several years as a technical writer.

Where did you study for your undergraduate degree?

My undergraduate degree was a B.A. in English from the University of Utah. I wanted to make computer programs since I was a kid; unfortunately, I doubted my abilities (particularly math) for the longest time. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I resolved to go back to school for computer science. As a technical writer, I just noticed the software developers around me were no smarter than I was—so why not? And now I’m doing way cooler things than they were.