Irene Greif '69, SM '72, PhD '75

Knitting together computers and people

Irene Greif may have a high-tech job as director of collaborative user experience in IBM’s Watson Cambridge Research Center, but she still enjoys low-tech activities. Greif, who holds the company’s highest honor as an IBM fellow, brings her knitting to meetings.

“My colleagues may e-mail or IM during meetings, but I knit,” says Greif, who makes handbags, hats, and sweaters. It doesn’t take her mind off her work, though, she adds: “I really listen to what is going on. This is evidenced by the knitting mistakes I make.”

Greif’s IBM team turns out products such as Lotus Connections, business software that integrates social bookmarking, blogging, and user profiles into corporate communications. Products like Lotus Connections sprang from the field Greif pioneered in the mid-1980s: computer-supported coöperative work (CSCW), which studies how people work in groups and develops technologies that support collaboration.

For Greif, who received a 2008 Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology Leadership Award, the notion of a finished product works for yarn-and-needle creations, but not for human-computer interfaces. “Business infrastructures need to be more flexible,” she says, “with
systems like blogs that can easily morph into
new systems.”

The first woman to earn a PhD in computer science at MIT, Greif served as a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, then returned to MIT as a professor of electrical engineering and computer science from 1977 to 1987. She headed a research group in the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science that developed coauthoring systems, shared calendars, and technology for real-time collaboration. Greif began working for Lotus in 1987 and formed Lotus Research, which created InterNotes Web Publisher; she also led the Lotus Product Design Group. She is a fellow of both the Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of Computing Machinery and was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2000.

Greif lives in Newton Centre, MA, with her husband, Albert R. Meyer, the Hitachi America Professor of Computer Science at MIT. The couple’s children Julia, 23, and Eli, 26, and Greif’s stepchildren Naomi, 39, and John, 41, all live in the area. “It is really nice to have everyone close by,” says Greif. “It’s easy to get together spontaneously.”

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