SIGCSE, Goldilocks and
the Three Bears
MaryAnne L. Egan, Siena College
Finding the right fit for a professional organization can be a little like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” minus
the breaking and entering issues that always bothered me
about that story. Attending an organization’s associated
conferences gives one an excellent introduction into the
general philosophy and tenor of the group. Reflecting on
over 20 years of attending various SIGCSE conferences,
I realize how similar my story is to Goldilocks. After
attending conferences associated with other professional
organizations that were either too “hard”-core or too “soft,”
I was happy to find one that was “just right” when I attended
my first SIGCSE conference in 1998.
WHAT MAKES IT JUST RIGHT
It was at that first conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where I presented a paper about a visualization tool for fuzzy clustering.
Not only did I meet amazing people throughout the conference,
beginning with the shuttle ride from the airport, but I brought
back information, tools, and techniques that were readily incorporated into my classroom. Pulling out my copy of that particular proceedings, I was surprised by the number of papers flagged
and highlighted. It was a reminder of the overwhelming decision
making process necessary to select which sessions to attend for
every conference. In addition to the information gleaned from
other attendees’ presentations and papers, I received useful,
positive feedback about my work which was then incorporated
into future iterations of that project. But, what I remember most
are the people, the collegiality, and the now 20-year friendships.
At one point I was going to list every SIGCSE conference I attended and mention a memorable event or speaker from each. But
when compiling the information, I realized that I have attended 17
SIGCSE, ITiCSE, or CCSC conferences over the last 20 years and
who’s going to read through all of that? Instead I want to focus on
three reasons why I love SIGCSE conferences—the amazing people, cultural experiences, and technical knowledge acquired. I will
illustrate each of these reasons with select examples.
How do you describe to others the excitement, respect, and
willingness to help others, that is so often witnessed at SIGCSE
conferences? Attendees are genuinely excited to see one an-
other, they share information about new pedagogies or tools in
CS education, they offer advice, and act as resources even after
the conference is over. I still remember the SIGCSE conference
where I saw this crazy person running around inviting everyone
to a tea party… Alice’s Tea Party, where Alice was introduced!
I also remember sharing a hot air balloon basket over Turkey
with over a dozen other conference attendees. How awesome
Sessions or BOFs about departmental and university initiatives are enlightening and informative. Additionally, it is
through these sessions that one develops a network of colleagues from other institutions with similar interests and/or
challenges. The value of these networks is immense, especially
for faculty from smaller schools who have less resources readily
available. It is through this network of colleagues that I was encouraged to take on more responsibility both at my own institution and within the larger professional community and I am
The number of tips, techniques, tools, and pedagogy that are
applicable to one’s classroom and research initiatives is overwhelming! There is an art to selecting just a few concepts from
a conference on which to focus or incorporate into your teaching, otherwise one risks running out of time before the next
conference comes around and more ideas are added to your list!
I admit that I have not yet perfected this art as people present
many innovative and interesting ideas.
A very short list to illustrate a few things picked up at SIGCSE
conferences and still used in my classes today include—
introducing students to CS with multimedia concepts in Python, CS
Unplugged, CS “magic” tricks, and interactive programming
with groups and easel paper.
While SIGCSE and CCSC allow one to get to know the people and places of the host city, there is nothing like the cultural experiences of ITiCSE. I love the fact that there is time set
aside during the conference to take a tour of the city, a local
university, or some other cultural excursion, and that the conference dinners introduce you to the food, dance, and history of
the host country. The tours before or after the conference are