I’ve often talked about how much I love my job, and the people I interact with are one of the best things about it. I’ve written over and over how much I love my students, but my colleagues are also great. Attending conferences especially reminds me how lucky I am in my choice of career, since during that time I get to see some of my favorite people. The ITiCSE conference is the one where I notice this the most. It’s the conference I’ve attended most frequently (2016 was my ninth ITiCSE), and it’s the place I get to see the majority of my international colleagues.
One of the best things about ITiCSE, and one I didn’t experience for the first time until 2014, is the working groups. For those who don’t know about them, it’s a gathering of researchers focused on a particular topic proposed by the working group leaders and reviewed and approved by conference organizers. People apply to join the working group, and typically spend several months prior to the conference doing prep work. Then for two days before the conference starts and during (nearly) the entirety of the regular conference you and your working group members sit in a room and discuss, analyze, and write. It’s intense and exhausting, but the end result is a paper that is reviewed by referees solicited by the organizers and (hopefully) becomes a (long — 20-25 pages) conference article.
What you don’t have any sense of until you do one is how much you bond with your working group members. This year I spent not only every day with my working group, but I ate almost every dinner with them and even sought them out during breaks. Yes, some of that time we were working, but most of it we were simply enjoying ourselves. My working group members are funny, intelligent, kind, and have interesting things to say about computer science and life in general. And I would never have spent as much time with them as I did without the working group, something that makes me very grateful.
Sadly I won’t be able to join another working group until my term as SIGCSE chair is up in 2019, since I need to be more available to conference organizers and participants. But one of the first things I’ll do as past chair is examine the working group proposals carefully, because after three years I know I’ll miss the experience. And I can’t recommend it enough to all of you in the meantime.