© 2021 Strange Loop
For the past 50 years, academic and technology communities have embraced a professional culture that relies heavily on physical meetings of people from around the world: we present our most important work in conferences, we meet our peers in conferences, we even make life-long friends in conferences. While all professional communities have their conferences, Computer Science academics and, to a large extent, software technologists have embraced the conference culture as integral part of their professional identities and career advancement.
Conferences are great! However, in some respects, they are not great. As more, and more diverse, people join the profession, many problems that did not exist in small, mostly homogeneous, mostly elitist groups started to emerge. Among them: large carbon footprints due to long-distance air travel, predatory sexual behavior, exclusion of those who cannot afford the costs of travel, and of those with care-taking responsibilities.
As these problems started to come into focus, COVID-19 happened, and all physical conferences were cancelled! 😱
In this talk, I start by visiting the long history of conferences, their elitist origins, rituals, and role in community formation. I then zoom in on the Computer Science and Technology conferences of the past 50 years, and on the problems that recently became visible. The second part of my talk is about the future of conferences. I explore alternatives to physical conferences, in part informed by what online communities have been doing for a long time, and in part informed by the online conference experiences of the past 18 months.
It is unclear what the post-pandemic world will look like. It is my hope, however, that we all embrace the lessons learned, and steer our professional conference culture in a more sustainable and equitable direction.
Crista is a professor in the Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC Irvine, with research interests in Programming Languages, Software Engineering, Distributed Virtual Environments, and just about anything else that relates to the art of programming. She is an IEEE Fellow, an ACM Distinguished Scientist, and Editor-in-Chief of The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming. Her book Exercises in Programming Style has gained rave reviews, including being chosen as "Notable Book" by the ACM Best of Computing reviews. She is the recipient of the 2016 Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest for her work in the OpenSimulator virtual world platform. She's also a founder and advisor of Clowdr CIC, a UK-based company providing virtual conferencing services.