I just got back from the 2014 International Conference on Frontiers in Education: Computer Science and Computer Engineering (FECS) held in Las Vegas every year. I’ve previously written about my mixed feelings toward the conference, particularly with respect to the different culture from the ACM conferences. This year I concluded that their approach to organization just makes it too hard to meet people, especially since the breaks this year were very poorly attended. I’m not sure I’ll be going back to the conference.

But I have to say that the conversation inspired by the second of my talks, entitled “Building a Linked-Courses Learning Community for Introductory Development Majors,” was a high point of the conference. There was a miscommunication on the part of the conference organizers so that on the last day of the conference the program posted didn’t list my talk. I made a big fuss, and they responded nicely making sure that it got changed. As it turns out, I traded with another speaker so that there were plenty of people in attendance when I spoke. One of the people attending the talk was one of the organizers, and he asked a lot of questions afterward about the broadening participation aspects of the project. It surprised me a bit that he, and the rest of the audience, knew little about the literature, but I was happy to discuss it.

One of the things I discussed was girls’ attitude toward failure, which is highlighted in a recent CNN opinion piece provocatively titled “Why Do Women Fail”. Reading the article on CNN and recalling the conversation I had with the organizer and other members of the audience reminds me that I am gifted (cursed?) with a large stubborn streak. I only minored in computer science in college, and my computer science classes were my hardest and earned me the lowest grades. But I didn’t hesitate for a minute to go to graduate school in CS rather than math because I thought it was more fun. I’m sure that the same phenomenon was at work when I learned to climb despite being desperately afraid of heights. The things I find hardest also inspire me to push myself as I stubbornly refuse to give in to early failure. Of course, it also makes me nearly impossible to deal with at times, as the people closest to me know too well.