Yanze Li

Distinguished Paper Award goes to CS student for algorithm makeover

University of British Columbia (UBC) computer science student Yanze Li, has won a Distinguished Paper award for his work in Pointer Analysis.

The award was granted by the 2022 International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) for research he conducted before joining UBC, with a team from Texas A&M University, where he also completed his master’s degree. Yanze is currently in the first year of his PhD with UBC.

Paper:  PUS: A Fast and Highly Efficient Solver for Inclusion-based Pointer Analysis

Persistence pays off

Considering only nine papers received awards at the conference out of 197, this is an impressive accomplishment for Yanze and his co-authors. The team’s dedication is also particularly noteworthy, considering the award was not easily won. The team’s effort had already involved a few other attempts.

“Our research was rejected a few times prior,” said Yanze. “Those reviewers thought the topic to be too old and more or less closed for discussion because the original algorithm was created 15 years ago. But that algorithm is critical, and it just needed to be optimized. So that’s what we did.”

Yanze explained how they improved upon the existing algorithm, “The algorithm performed poorly and slowly at the industry level. Our modified algorithm helps a compiler actually reason about the program it’s compiling. And it is thoroughly optimized to identify bugs in programs, quickly and efficiently.”

Better. Stronger. Faster.

With the introduction of their program ‘PUS’ (Partial Update Solver), the team was able to improve the performance speed to up to 10 times faster (7 times faster in solving context-sensitive constraints, and more than twice faster in solving context-insensitive constraints). In real-world applications like security and high-performance computing, speed and accuracy are critical factors.

Despite their success in improving the algorithm’s performance, Yanze was still truly surprised to win the award at ICSE. “We didn’t expect the Distinguished Paper Award because the paper had already been rejected from a few other submissions, and it even had some negative feedback at this conference after the initial review. But after all our rebuttals, we received very high ratings and reviews.”

This is Yanze’s first award for a submitted paper, and he is grateful to be acknowledged for his three years of hard work. “It’s nice to know others appreciate and recognize all the work we did,” he said.

Currently, Yanze is working in the Software Practices Lab Group (SPL) under the co-supervision of Dr. Ivan Beschastnikh and Dr. Alex Summers. “I really enjoy being here,” he said. “The SPL lab environment is very liberal and collaborative. The people are great! In my opinion, it’s better than any other research group I’ve been in, or come across. I definitely made the right choice in coming here.”        

Dr. Summers is impressed with Yanze’s contributions. “Yanze has a very mature outlook on problems for an early-stage student. As this award shows, he’s had amazing successes in his pre-UBC life already and we’re lucky to work with him.”

Dr. Beschastnikh is equally as enthusiastic about having Yanze in the lab, saying, “Yanze is remarkably dedicated and is a joy to work with. This award is a testament to the copious amount of high quality thinking Yanze puts into his research.”

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