Center for Research in Open Source Software welcomes James Davis as new faculty director

Portrait of James Davis
Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and new CROSS Faculty Director James Davis.
With the goal of bringing the benefits of open source software to more people across the campus community, the Center for Research in Open Source Software (CROSS) at UC Santa Cruz welcomes a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering James Davis as its new faculty director. Davis now runs CROSS in collaboration with Executive Director Stephanie Lieggi.

CROSS, which is housed within the Baskin School of Engineering, fosters open source software produced by graduate student researchers as a path to transfer their cutting edge technology to the industry setting. Engineering students learn best practices to engage with open source communities, create healthy developer networks around their software, and can even receive funding to further their high-impact research. CROSS strives to protect and nurture the software developed as part of larger research projects, which can often just be left to disappear when graduate students or postdocs graduate from the university.

“There's a lot of open source software developed on campuses, but we typically treat that as a side endeavor,” Davis said. “We lose a lot of resources in the university by not treating [the software] as a first class piece of what we're doing. We're trying to provide support structures for these projects to continue both in helping research teams understand how they can make their projects continue better and what are the best practices around open source; and in terms of finding funding specifically for open source software projects.” 

Davis has been involved in CROSS at a planning and decision making level as he has served as the faculty advisor on the CROSS Advisory Board for several years, which includes a number of open source and industry experts. In this position he served as a bridge between the industry advisors on the board and faculty and student projects, and gained insight into ongoing grant distribution and active projects at the center. Davis’s former postdoc student, Emily Lovell, has also served as the Open Source Incubator Fellow supported by CROSS. 

Davis succeeds this position from Adjunct Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Carlos Maltzahn, who was the founding director and the visionary force behind the center. Maltzahn retired in December 2023. 

Davis takes this leadership role at a time of growing interest from industry and government to invest in open source software and their surrounding research ecosystems. Davis said that increased federal funding opportunities for open source software reflect a recognition for this viable method for increasing the societal impact of academic research — and CROSS aims to take advantage of this increased awareness and investment. 

“The current research environment reflects what we have known and put into practice for years at Baskin Engineering — that open source is a critically important method for bringing the fruits of academia to the wider world,” said Alexander Wolf, dean of the Baskin School of Engineering. “I look forward to seeing CROSS take advantage of this environment, with James at the helm.”

In this vein, Davis will also lead the charge to further develop the Open Source Program Office (OSPO) at UC Santa Cruz. The UCSC OSPO effort, begun in 2022 with a grant from the Sloan Foundation, now includes a collaboration  between six UC campuses to create an open source “center of gravity” for the entire UC system.

Davis also hopes to continue efforts to expand the relationship between CROSS and the industry partners that support it, shifting to a more agile funding and sponsorship model that will be innovative in its approach to expanding the impact of open source software created at UCSC.

Beyond expanding funding opportunities, Davis aims to bring the mission of CROSS to more students across campus. He hopes that the collaborative, community-oriented approach that is central to CROSS can engage more students who have been historically underrepresented in engineering fields.  

This might include expanding the Open Source Research Experience run by CROSS in which students are matched with members of industry to receive mentorship and participate in open source based summer internships. Last year, this program brought students from Historically Black colleges and universities to the UCSC campus with the aim to increase the students’ real-world coding and developer skills.