Two days ago I returned from the SIGCSE Symposium held in Denver. Between the early starts and the late nights, I’ve managed to develop a cold. Through the medicine haze I’ve been thinking about all the experiences I had, and as is typical for the Symposium, the conversations are by far the highlights. Yes, there are great talks, panels, workshops, and other formal activities, often so many that you have to choose between two or more things you’d like to do. But meeting people old and new is always the part that leaves me feeling the most energized afterward.
One of the meetings I had at the most recent Symposium was with a relatively new collaborator. While we were chatting she mentioned that she almost never meets new people at the conference. I must have looked surprised because she went on to talk about the large number of people she already knows and explained that seeing them takes all her time. While I am very familiar with the phenomena of young graduate students who band together and never meet anyone new, it had never occurred to me that more seasoned conference goers could experience the same thing.
In both cases I see it as a lost opportunity, an expansion of a business network that never happens. While the young graduate students may be hindering their career by not networking, I think that the older conference goers are hindering the growth of the field by failing to network. The people they don’t know are the ones who might introduce them to novel ideas, the ones that their existing network doesn’t provide. Without that input the more seasoned members of the community have the potential to develop an insular and stagnant outlook, and since so many of them are also in leadership positions their outlooks shape more than just their own lives.
It’s for this reason that I’m glad I’ve gotten to serve on the SIGCSE board and been reminded at each and every Symposium for the last three years that I need to spend part of my time getting to know people who are new to the community. It’s made it an ingrained part of my approach to the conference, one that I hope lasts past my involvement in the board whenever that may be.