Spotlight on Lorrie Cranor

Courtesy of Cup of Java

Lorrie Cranor '89 is currently an accomplished computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, working in the privacy and security aspect of computer science, but computer science wasn't something Cranor was always interested in.

Despite taking numerous computer science courses in high school, Cranor headed into college mainly interested in engineering. She ended up graduating with a minor in computer science, although it was mostly due to convenience and not due to a plan. "I could take one more class and get a minor in computer science, and I went with it," Cranor explains.

After eventually graduating with a PhD in engineering and public policy, Cranor received an offer to be the head teacher assistant (TA) of a computer science department, which prompted her to get a Masters in computer science. Even then, becoming a "computer scientist" wasn't something Cranor saw herself becoming. However, one thing led to another, and Cranor eventually became the professor of computer science she is today.

Even though engineering, public policy, and computer science are very different fields, Cranor found that many of the skills she learned from studying engineering and public policy are applicable to her work in computer science. "The kind of problem solving that you learn in engineering and the public policy aspect are things that I deal with all the time in my career [in computer science]," Cranor says.

In fact, Cranor's love for problem-solving and the problem-solving skills she gained as an engineering major impact the very research topics Cranor is interested in today. "Privacy labels", something that informs a user on what information an app uses and collects, was a research topic that Cranor had investigated years ago.

Privacy labels were recently implemented by Apple, but Cranor and her team found the privacy labels to be lacking. Seeing the issues with the privacy labels today, Cranor immediately decided to do even more research on the topic. "I see problems in the world that match my expertise… and I want to [address] that," Cranor explains.

Cranor's career as a computer science professor isn't something that she picked just because of coincidences– she may not have been interested in computer science as a high school student or as a college graduate, but Cranor certainly has the passion for computer science now. "I love the opportunity to be able to come up with ideas, create things, try them out, and build tools," Cranor explains.

Cranor cites the lack of girls in computer science as one of the reasons that made her originally uninterested in the field. When taking computer science classes in high school, Cranor did not enjoy being the only girl in those classes. "But I was often the only girl in the class, and I didn't really like it," Cranor says.

Although there are now more women in the computer science field than there were a few decades ago, Cranor emphasizes that women are still very much the minority in the field, and are still sometimes treated unfairly. Cranor also comments that although there have been policy changes that try to decrease the amount of discrimination against women, those policies still have not been a perfect solution.

"We still have microaggressions, we still have individual people who make other people uncomfortable… we all need to work towards changing that," Cranor says.

Interview re-printed from the Cup of Java newsletter