Faculty Profile: Eric Sabbah, PhD
Not many small children would willingly forego birthday parties, but that’s exactly what Eric Sabbah did in exchange for his first computer. That decision launched him on to a career which has included software and programming work in the private sector, as well as academic appointments at multiple colleges and universities. In August 2015, Sabbah joined the faculty of Capitol Technology University as Chair of the computer science program.
Dr. Sabbah spoke with Capitology about his academic work and research interests, his approach to teaching, and his experience so far at Capitol.
How did you become interested in the field of computer science, and what drew you to a career in higher education?
My interest in computers goes back a very long time. I was about five when I first started writing programs. I asked my parents for a computer; this was in the early 1980s. At the time, a computer was very expensive -- you could buy a car for the same price. My parents told me that “if we do this, you can basically never have a birthday party again.” And I actually agreed. Even more amazingly, for a child, the next year I didn’t try to renege on the deal. I accepted it. And that definitely changed my whole life!
In college, I majored in math – but it was basically applied math, with computers as the application. After that, I worked in industry, first for financial companies, and then for the music industry. It was during the time that Napster was being sued, and I was involved in decoding it as well as in the development of DRM technology. For someone in his twenties, it felt a little traitorous.
After working for several years in industry, I realized I wanted more of an intellectual life, and to be in an environment of people who are intellectually curious. I’d encounter people who’d tell me that they’d never opened a book, and that wasn’t really where I wanted to be. That’s why I decided to go into higher ed.
What are some of you proudest accomplishments in the field of computer science?
My academic specialization was in wireless sensor networks, specifically security and privacy. A lot of the research I’ve been doing has been related to medicine. Wearable devices now offer enormous benefits to people with various health conditions; for example, if you have a chronic illness, instead of having to live your life in a hospital or a nursing home, you could have built into your clothing or watch monitoring devices, and these would collect data and eventually send the data to doctors or to a long-term storage facility. As should be obvious, this presents a lot of security challenges and privacy concerns. Say, for example, that my heart is being monitored. It's important that my doctor knows about my heart rate, but he shouldn’t know that I went to the movies the other day. Why does the doctor need to know that? I’ve done a lot of work with security and privacy to help bio center networks. That’s also the focus of recent papers that I’ve published.
What is your favorite part about teaching?
What should incoming students know about you as a person and as a professor?
I’m fair. if you do what’s expected you should be fine. I try to give a lot of opportunity, but you still have to do put in the effort from your end. That's especially something thet incoming students need to realize; you're adults now, you're not in high school, you have to manage your time and keep up with the work. Tough but fair is the bottom line.
Over the summer, we had a group of Brazilian students who were very motivated -- they asked for extra work! If you're like them, and want extra work, I'm definitely available. If undergrads want to be involved in research or other projects, well, I love doing that. If students want to do any sort of project outside or inside of class, I’m available to help.
What do you like most about Capitol so far? What makes us stand out as an institution of higher learning?
A lot of things. It’s a big change in size. At my previous school, I almost never interacted with anyone who wasn’t in my department. Here, I’m always interacting…even my department is sort of shared with other departments. At the same time, even though Capitol is small and located in a small town, I feel connected to everything. It’s really exciting that we have programs with NASA and the NSA, and our international programs. such as the summer workshop for students from Brazil.
I also appreciate the fact that we have students who are excited and engaged, and an enthusiastic faculty.
Do you have some specific hopes or goals?
We have now a mobile computing and gaming degree. I would like to expand that and hopefully get some of the gaming companies involved. In addition, we're seeing more discussion among cybersecurity and information people about ethical hacking; right now, the focus is still on defensive measures, but there's definitely interest in having attackers as well. That's definitely an area for development. Meanwhile, over the longer term, Capitol could launch a Ph.D. in computer science.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I like role-playng games, both computer and tabletop, as well as BioWare games. And I'm into all forms of rock music, from the sixties through the present -- classic rock, alternative, heavy metal, you name it. I've been to five Ozzfests!