Tallying up SIGCSE
Amruth N. Kumar, Ramapo College of New Jersey
Iremember my first SIGCSE. It was snowing in Philadelphia. My friend Liz Adams was the program chair.
I had submitted a paper for the first time to the conference.
And it was accepted. I thought, “Well, that wasn’t too hard!”
Little did I realize it was beginner’s luck. I have spent the
two decades since, riding the roller-coaster of acceptance
highs and rejection lows. But, this is par for the course, and
we all know, in Computer Science education, it is SIGCSE
or bust! A couple of years later, I found myself wandering
the side alleys by the Ramblas in Barcelona with Liz and
company, looking for a good restaurant. That was my first
ITiCSE conference. And a friendship had been made.
Two years later, SIGCSE was held in Atlanta. The land of
Coca Cola and CNN. My friend Jane Prey was the program
chair. I had managed to wangle the role of Workshops Chair.
Java and object-oriented programming were all the rage in
workshop proposals! The proposals were submitted by email as
ASCII text! Looking back, yes, this was the last millennium in
computing as well. A few years later, I would run into Jane again
while waiting for the conference tour bus in Leeds. I was the
program co-chair at that ITiCSE. And she was happy to be back
after a health scare. And a friendship was cemented.
I could go on and on about the friends I made at SIGCSE and
ITiCSE—with whom, I have carried on an annual conversation
that has lasted decades. That is what SIGCSE and ITiCSE conferences have been to me—a Facebook group before there was
Facebook. A MOOC for Computer Science educators before
there were MOOCs. I would return from each conference with
three-pages of closely scrawled notes—ideas to improve my
teaching, opportunities for collaboration, etc. Just like a new year’s
resolution, I would find myself hopelessly falling behind in catching up on that list within a month of return. No more notes. Now,
I look for three—three good ideas per conference. Just three on
which I can follow up. And I have never been disappointed.
I remember the heydays of SIGCSE, when each conference
tended to do one better than the one before in terms of attend-
ee bags. When exhibitors had so many goodies to give away,
including T-shirts, pens, keychains, and whatnots, you wanted
to be at the exhibitor’s booth on Thursday morning before the
best stuff got scooped up! I remember when the conference first
introduced computer terminals to check our email for those of
us who were going through email-withdrawal symptoms—this
was before the age of WiFi, smartphones, and ubiquitous lap-
tops. Inevitably, there would be a long waiting line in front of
each terminal. I remember when, beginning in my teaching ca-
reer, I would collect at least half a dozen examination copies
of textbooks at the exhibitor’s booths, only to regret having to
lug them back home. I am grateful airlines did not charge for
checking luggage back then! I remember when submitting a pa-
per meant sending multiple hard copies by regular mail; when
we used transparencies and telescoping pointers during presen-
tations; and the conference proceedings was yet another bulky
book that I had to carry back home, only to receive a second
copy of it a few weeks later in the mail in the form of SIGCSE
Bulletin. I do not miss those days. But, I do find it remiss that
conference attendees these days are often physically present,
but electronically otherwise engaged, with their heads buried
in the glow of their laptop screens. Maybe we are taking after
our students after all?
Travel is one of the perks of being an educator. In that respect, ITiCSE has been a god-send. When I finally hang up
my dry-erase markers and kick back in the rocking chair, I am
sure I will be able to track my years in the profession not by the
courses I taught, but by recalling the places I visited, courtesy
of ITiCSE: Dover castle, dinner cruise on the Seine, Fishamble
street, Macchu Picchu, Hagia Sophia, Bahai template in Haifa,
Wieliczka salt mine, and the list goes on. Who says you cannot
have your cake and eat it too?
SIGCSE and ITiCSE conferences have been the metronome
of my professional life for the last two decades. Twice a year at
these conferences, I get to stick my pedagogical finger up in the
air and sense the direction in which computer science education currents are blowing. Reminiscing about these events has
reminded me how pivotal they have been to my career. And
how much my academic life revolves around them.
Amruth N. Kumar
Ramapo College of New Jersey
505 Ramapo Valley Road
Mahwah, NJ, USA
DOI: 10.1145/3276308 Copyright held by author/owner. Publication rights licensed to ACM.