In Memoriam - Eelco Visser (1966 - 2022)
It is with great sadness that we announce the untimely passing of our dear colleague and friend Eelco Visser, on Tuesday 5 April 2022. Eelco was professor and head of the Programming Languages Group (faculty EWI) at TU Delft and was an expert in the field of programming language design. He was a highly valued member of the management team of the Software Technology department. Eelco was tenacious, well-informed, and always driven by content. A researcher in heart and soul who will be greatly missed.
High-level language design
After his appointment, Eelco quickly made TU Delft into a stronghold in programming languages research, where he led the Programming Languages Group with more than 25 people. The natural languages we speak as humans evolve with us. Eelco felt that in the same way programming languages should evolve with computers. "We understand programming better and better. Based on that progressive understanding, I want to make it easier to develop new programming languages," Eelco said in a recent interview. Through his research, Eelco freed programming languages and even the creation of programming languages from irrelevant details, which he called ‘abstraction’. A higher level of abstraction helps programming language designers and programmers to focus all of their attention on what their programs should be able to do. For this research, Eelco acquired a prestigious NWO Vici grant in 2013, entitled 'The Language Designer's Workbench'.
Tool-supported programming education
In education, Eelco was a visionary, with strong ideas for both bachelor and master education. He was chairman of the curriculum committee, responsible for designing the current - highly successful - TU Delft bachelor's programme in Computer Science and Engineering. As a strong advocate of tool-supported programming education, he led the development of Weblab, a learning management system that is in use for a range of programming languages and courses. And in his master's programmes, he got students to work with the Spoofax workbench, which allowed them to design and implement their own ready-made domain-specific languages in no time. Developing a new programming language can take years and can be expensive. But Eelco’s workbench allowed students to build a small programming language within a semester. Under his guidance and mentorship, a total of 15 PhD students completed their dissertations (10 at TU Delft and 5 at Utrecht University). His work on Spoofax started with a ground-breaking publication in 2010, for which he received a Most Influential Paper award ten years later at OOPSLA 2020.
Eelco studied at the University of Amsterdam (master 1993; PhD 1997), and worked at the Oregon Graduate Institute (postdoc 1997-1998), and Utrecht University (associate professor 1998-2006). Since 2006, Eelco was Associate Professor at TU Delft and was appointed Professor in 2013. His unbridled commitment made him an indispensable pivot within the Software Technology department. His research interests included (domain-specific) programming languages, language engineering, program transformation, and declarative language definition. In recent years, he had been researching the justification and implementation of declarative specification of programming languages.
Eelco Visser played a leading role in the international programming language research community. He served as general chair for SPLASH 2016 in Amsterdam, and as Programme Chair for OOPSLA 2019, the flagship conference of the ACM Special Interest Group on Programming Languages SIGPLAN. Furthermore, he served the international community by leading the design, implementation and use of conf.researchr, a content management system for scientific events used by hundreds of international events since 2011.
For Eelco we have opened a Farewell community where colleagues can contribute memories, pictures and condolences to a remembrance book for his family and friends. . You can access the community here: Community Eelco Visser