SIGCSE: Trends and Reflections
A Personal Narrative of
My Relationship with SIGCSE
Nell B. Dale, University of Texas at Austin, retired
This paper is an unabashedly personal memoir of my 35 years
with SIGCSE. To my older colleagues,
I trust it will bring back fond
memories. To my younger colleagues,
I hope it will provide you with a
picture of the evolution of SIGCSE,
from a very small group whose main conference (the SIGCSE
Technical Symposium) was a two-day add-on to another
conference to the major organization you know today.
SIGCSE and my professional life were intricately interwoven
for these 35 years. I attended my first SIGCSE Technical Symposium in 1976 in Williamsburg, Virginia. I don’t remember too
much about the conference, but I remember vividly my visit
to Colonial Williamsburg and my lovely lunch at the hotel at
the center of town. I also remember the people I met—Norm
Gibbs, Robert Aiken, Della Bonnette, and Dick Austing. Many
of them have remained friends over the years.
At one of my first conferences, I was asked to join a group
going out to dinner. They had been doing so together for several
years and I felt very privileged to be asked to join them. I enjoyed a SIGCSE night with this group for the next 30 years. The
group changed and shifted, but it was always made up of people
who loved fine food. The person who lived nearest to the next
conference site was tasked with finding the restaurant for the
next year. Having such a tradition made the world of difference
to me. I sincerely hope others of you have found a group and
have carried on similar traditions. Thank you, Bob Aiken, for
asking me to join you.
Another tradition that meant a lot to me was having breakfast once each conference with Angela Shifflet. When Angela
and her husband went to Oxford the year after my husband
died, they took the time to go by his old college and take a picture of where some of his ashes were buried. I cherish those
pictures. SIGCSE technical symposia should help you make
professional friends, not just provide intellectual stimulation.
By this time, my list of SIGCSE friends had risen to include
Boots Cassel, Harriet Taylor, Joe Turner, Henry Walker, Barber
Boucher Owns, John Impagliazzo, Joyce Currie Little, Bill Bull-grin, Jane Prey, and many, many more.
HISTORY OF SIGCSE
The SIGCSE Technical Symposium
was originally held as an add-on to
the annual ACM Computer Science
Conference. The Department Chair
from a neighboring university applied
to run the 1991 ACM Computer Science Conference and gave
my name as the person chairing the accompanying SIGCSE
Technical Symposium. Imagine how surprised I was when
the conference was awarded to San Antonio and I found
out that I was chairing the SIGCSE portion. Fortunately, I
had a lot of help from John and Laurie Werth, fellow faculty
members. They became Co-Program Chairs. (Yes, this really
Historically, the Symposium Chair took a suite in the
Conference Hotel and held an unofficial reception during
the symposium. It wasn’t announced, it was just advertised
by word of mouth. In San Antonio, we had a lovely suite
with a sitting room and a huge bathroom with a big bathtub.
I remember Paul (last name omitted on purpose) bringing
three cases of pink champagne up the back stairs of the hotel.
Then he brought up the ice to fill the bathtub. All enjoyed the
However, I was concerned about SIGCSE’s liability running
such an unofficial party in the hotel. By the next year, the
reception was run openly at the conference hotel, and its
existence was published in the program.
I do not remember the exact year, but eventually the
SIGCSE’s Technical Symposium became the tail wagging
the dog. Our conference had continued to grow as the ACM
Computer Science Conference had declined, so we cancelled
that collaboration and went out on our own.
I particularly remember the Technical Symposium in
Orlando in 1983. It was there that my editor presented me
with the first copy of my first book: Programming and Problem
Solving in Pascal. The Exhibits at the Technical Symposia were
always one of my favorite parts of the conference. I would
visit each publisher’s booth, talk with the reps, examine the
new books, and sometimes come home with one or two.
While making this circuit, I would stop and chat with friends,
perhaps sharing a cup of coffee and technical gossip.
SIGCSE and my
professional life were
for these 35 years.