CMU computer science professor Mary Shaw’s pioneering life work may be invisible to the naked eye, but it’s as critical to software architecture as beams are to a building.

Her contribution to the software engineering architecture was recognized by President Barack Obama who deemed her work worthy of one of the highest honors in the land, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. The honor is considered the pinnacle of achievement in the field.

“It came totally out of the blue,” Shaw admits.

Shaw has been a faculty member of CMU’s computer science department since the founding of program, in 1971. Her research on software architecture — the large-scale structure of software systems — helped establish it as a recognized discipline. She is also an educational innovator who has developed curricula for the field from an introductory to a doctoral level.

The enduring theme of Shaw’s research has been to purposefully develop systems that are reliable, usable and dependable.

“My work lies in the infrastructure,” she explains. “Just as there as different types of architecture in buildings depending on how it will be used, we identify different types of structure within software systems. CMU has provided a rich environment for collaboration to make this happen; I don’t think I could have done this anywhere else.”

“Building the reliable software systems that are the bedrock of commerce and communication today would not be possible without the engineering principles for large-scale software architecture pioneered by Mary and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon,” added Subra Suresh, president of CMU in a prepared statement.

Shaw was among the first Ph.D. graduates in computer science when she received her degree in 1972. She works with the Institute for Software Research, the Computer Science Department and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. She has also served as chief scientist of Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute and as associate dean for professional education.

The medal is awarded annually to individuals, groups or teams that have made an outstanding contribution to America’s economic, environmental and social well-being.