Leonidas Kontothanassis Joins the CDS Faculty at BU

Boston University warmly welcomes Leonidas Kontothanassis as the Inaugural MassMutual Professor of the Practice in the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS). 

Funded by a generous gift from MassMutual, this new position brings industry expertise to classroom teaching and laboratory research focused on societally relevant real-world problems. Professors of the Practice are officers of instruction who are distinguished practitioners who through teaching share their knowledge and experience in the profession. Commenting on the appointment of Dr. Kontothanassis in CDS, Adam Fox, MassMutual Head of Data noted that One of the major reasons we chose to partner with the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences at Boston University is its focus on interdisciplinary applications of data science, and how relevant outcomes can further many industries, including the financial one. We are thrilled to help bring Professor Kontothanassis to BU from the corporate world to advance the program leveraging real-world expertise. His wealth of experience will ensure that his students are prepared to solve complicated and pertinent challenges regardless of where their careers take them.”

Leonidas’s decision to pivot back from industry to academia is in large part motivated by his belief in the importance of having undergraduate students in CDS hone in on “hard skills” that make them ready for impactful careers. “Students will use these skills repeatedly throughout their careers if they end up in software or data engineering roles,” Leonidas says. For students, this looks like conceptualizing multiple programming languages, learning basic data structures and algorithms, and graphing techniques, all used to solve real-world problems. Fellow CDS Professor Kevin Gold referred to Leonidas as having a “deeply practical body of knowledge” to offer students. “Students can look forward to engaging lectures, illuminating war stories, and opportunities to connect with others in industry,” Gold added.

Leonidas’ background building and managing some of the largest Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) is the result of more than 20 years at some of the biggest industry names, or what CS and CDS Professor Mark Crovella called “an enormous range of experience.” Most recently, Leonidas served as Senior Engineering Director at Facebook, preceded by his work at Google and Akamai. “It’s exciting to have someone who knows firsthand how Google and Facebook work as technologies and as companies,” Gold explained.

Notably, Leonidas was recognized by ACM SIGCOMM as having a significant impact on the world of computer networking, as well as being awarded a technical Emmy for building a system that made video consumption on YouTube possible on a large scale. “This mix of recognition from academia and industry is rare” says Associate Provost of CDS , Professor Azer Bestavros. “Having an Emmy Award Winner as one of our faculty members in CDS speaks to the value we attribute to pursuing research and development whose impact is felt on main street,” he added.    

Long-term, Crovella sees Leonidas’ expertise in design and operation of Internet scale systems as a means to “support the launch of new courses and programs, such as a specialization in data engineering.” 

While Leonidas’ students will set their own goals, Leonidas has his own. One of those is exploring the application of computing tools to the area of urban planning, which he notes is a “personal interest,” not one of prior expertise. “I see it as a great opportunity to teach and learn at the same time,” he says. 

Leonidas received his Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Engineering from the University of Patras in Greece in 1990, as well as a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Rochester in 1996. Through his academic and research experience, Leonidas has some words of wisdom to keep in mind this school year and beyond: “Learning is something you should never stop doing,” he says.