It's a highlight because it's the group of people that I identify most closely with. I've been to conferences in my research area before ... and, inevitably, I end up feeling like I'm somehow a dilettante who snuck in the back door somehow when they weren't watching.
I don't get that vibe at SIGCSE at all. Everyone --- and I mean everyone --- is warm and welcoming. Even folks who are distinguished researchers and award winners are gracious and happy to give you a few minutes to answer what must be incredibly ordinary questions.
But even then, sometimes the loneliest place in the world is a crowd. Being sociable and outgoing is not my strongest suit. I'm inherently an introvert. (I'm also a decent actor, so I can project extroversion when it's needed.) And there have been times, particular in my early academic career, where being social at SIGCSE was extremely difficult.
This has lessened considerably over time. Of course, when you go back to the same conference year after year, you start meeting more people, start recognizing more faces, start feeling like you have more of a sense of the place.
This year was ... well, nothing short of delightful, in a way that I've not experienced in previous years.
- I found people to eat meals with! It's a little awkward sometimes to figure out meals in the evenings at local establishments ... but this time, I managed to find folks and either initiate or receive invitations to dine together. I simply don't do that on a regular basis, so that was a big accomplishment.
- Every time I turned around ... I saw people I knew and wanted to chat with. Granted, many of them were friends from the AP Computer Science reading. Still ... they knew me, and I knew them ... and even for introverted little old me, I found myself initiating conversation and asking people about their years and their work and the whole nine yards.
- People recognized me! I'd be in a group and people would ask me, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" They often did, of course ... and it's fun to be ... well, known.
This was a paper that I wrote back in 1994, while I was still in graduate school. It was the third paper I'd ever written, and the first one I'd ever written as a solo author. I look back at that paper now and cringe at the quality of the writing. (To be fair, I'd hope that my writing would have improved somewhat over the last seventeen years). It had a couple of nice ideas, but I've never thought of it as anything remarkable.
But to find out that a professor at another university --- a tenured professor at that --- actually thinks that ancient paper is worthwhile enough to inflict on their students every term? What a complement. I don't know if I've received a greater one.
When I expressed my incredulity, he said "oh, yeah, it's on the Internet everywhere". So ... I had to go back to my room and Google myself and the paper. Ok, it's not quite "everywhere" ... but it's worked its way into a number of databases, and a few people have even cited it in their own works ... favorably, even.
As I sit here in the airport, getting ready to head home, I'm amazed. I feel, perhaps for the first time, that I really do belong among the community of CS scholars ... and that I have nothing for which to apologize.
Sure, there's always one more paper to write, or one more study to conduct, of course. As someone said: art is never completed, only abandoned. But ... wow. Just ... wow.
Soli Deo Gloria.