Robert M. Aiken, Temple University
“A Hop, Skip and Jump”
A Personal Journey Down
SIGCSE Memory Lane
SIGCSE: The Beginning
Robert “Bob” Aiken was a founding member of SIGCSE in 1968 and became its first secretary. Between 1969
and 1973, Bob was the editor of the SIGCSE Bulletin where
he generated publications volume 1, number 3, through
volume 5, number 2. He served on the SIGCSE board
of directors between 1975 and 1977 and then served as
SIGCSE chair between 1977 and 1981. Between 1981 and
1985, he again served as a member of the board of directors.
In 1995 he received the SIGCSE Outstanding Contribution
to Computer Science Education award and in 1999 he
received the SIGCSE Lifetime Service to Computer Science
Education award. In 2002, Bob became an ACM Fellow.
Several months ago, the editors of the ACM Inroads invited me
to submit an article that discussed the early days of SIGCSE for
a special issue of the magazine titled, “Celebrating SIGCSE@ 50.”
Since then several articles and blogs have appeared covering
various points on which I was basing my paper. Thus, in consultation with the guest editor, Jane Prey, my contribution focuses
more on personal perspectives that reflect some of the interesting events and experiences that occurred as SIGCSE evolved.
So, let me take you on a journey as we follow SIGCSE’s evolution focusing on some of the key elements and milestones of its
growth. I hope you enjoy this personal journey and learn some
interesting snippets along the way.
Imagine that you are a 27-year-old freshly minted PhD. That was
me in August 1968. I had just taken a position as an Assistant
Professor of Computer Science at the University of Tennessee.
My colleague (and boss), Gordon Sherman, encouraged me to
attend the 23rd National ACM Conference, which was held in
Las Vegas August 27–29. I jumped at the idea and during that
visit, I met several early proponents of computer science edu-
cation, including Elliot Organick. Elliot invited me to meet with
a number of colleagues to establish a working group. Twenty
of us signed a petition to get the ball rolling—many of them
friends and colleagues of Elliot. The process for starting a spe-
cial interest group (SIG) was that ACM would finance and sup-
port the work of a Special Interest Committee (SIC) for one
year. To become a SIG, the SIC needed to show during that year
that it was a viable entity by publishing at least one newsletter,
appointing a set of officers, and recruiting enough members to
make it self-supporting.
The setting was hardly auspicious—a smoky, small confer-
ence room in one of the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. However,
the people involved more than made up for the less than propi-
tious surroundings! One can find a copy of the petition signers
in “Celebrating SIGCSE’s 50th Anniversary!” [ 6]
This visit to Las Vegas definitely expanded and enriched my
computer science education horizons but left me a bit poorer in
the pocketbook (i.e., having to borrow money to pay my room)!
However, that is a story for another time.
Through announcements at the ACM Annual Meeting, the
Spring and Fall Joint Computer Conferences (SJCC and FJCC),
and via the Communications of the ACM, we were able to reach
out to the CS education community to spread the word regarding our efforts to form SIGCSE. By late 1969 more than 200
colleagues had written to ACM headquarters signaling their
support for chartering SIGCSE. We were successful in this endeavor and as noted in [ 3] we officially became a SIG in 1970.
Later that year we had 143 attendees at our first technical symposium. Unbelievable that we now have over 2,700 members
with a significant number of colleagues from outside North
America and we attract more than 1,600 attendees to our annual technical symposia.
As noted in [ 2], significant activity was well under way including planning for the first SIGCSE technical symposium
(Houston November 1970) and a meeting scheduled for November 18, 1969 at FJCC. One of the key topics being discussed
was “Accrediting Computer Science and Computer Technology
Programs – Pros and Cons!” Accreditation continued to be a
hot topic for many years and ACM (with significant SIGCSE