And ... welcome back.
While I don't post to this blog terribly often, I often do just after the annual ACM SIGCSE convention in March. It's one of my two professional highlights of the year --- the other being the AP Computer Science reading in June. For whatever reasons, though, the SIGCSE meeting tends to be a time where I end up doing a lot of
Since my last major update two years ago ... well, not a lot professionally has happened. I've been trying to search around for a research program, and made a few tentative steps in different directions. And ... none of those have panned out, despite my best intentions and best efforts.
To a certain extent, I've still not resolved the core dilemma of "gee, why do you want these titles"? It's the environment in which I move; everyone wants the next title, because, well, that's what we do. More on this later.
So, while I was eager to attend SIGCSE and see my friends (most of whom I know through APCS, though there are others), I also attended with a bit of ... anxiety, I guess. It's hard to go and hear people talk about the wonderful things they've accomplished professionally when I'm pretty much stuck in neutral without any ideas on moving forward. It only serves to reinforce the feelings of inadequacy that sometimes plague me (and other men, I suppose).
Which is why a number of things were interesting to hear at the conference.
One of them was hearing a number of people talking about impostor syndrome. This has a great deal of relevance in computer science --- especially as we work to improve the number of students from under-represented populations taking up the discipline. But it's interesting hearing my colleagues, and leaders in the field, talking about how it plagues them, too. And not just ordinary folks --- people like Maria Klawe, prominent computer scientist and currently president of Harvey Mudd College. To a certain extent, it's reassuring to know that my feelings of inadequacy aren't unique; most of us feel that way. (And it's important to express that to our students, so that they also can realize that they aren't unique in that regard.)
But the most interesting thing for me in that week was listening to the keynote address by Hadi Partovi. Hadi is the driving force behind code.org ... which is an amazing phenomenon. A year ago, code.org had just released a few videos encouraging K-12 students to consider computing as a career option. At SIGCSE, we were talking about it ... nobody was quite sure what would become of it, or if the images were the right ones we wanted to promote as a discipline (though they were clearly better than anything we'd seen in quite awhile). As with anything new, nobody was quite sure what the future would bring.
Well, a year later, code.org has become a driving force in promoting CS education at the K-12 level. Educators, industry professionals, and government wonks have all coalesced around this effort. The Hour of Code encouraged K-12 students to take just one hour and learn how to write a piece of code --- complete with pre-built online tutorials and support. The results were amazing. I can't repeat all the statistics, but one sticks out in my head: more women students participated in the Hour of Code in 2013 than took a CS high school course in the previous 50 years combined. And their efforts are continuing to build on that success.
Partovi's keynote was riveting in any number of ways. For me, though, what was striking about it was Partovi's unassuming attitude. When he started code.org, he wasn't trying to create an epic movement that would sweep the nation; he was just trying to find some ways to get students to think about computing with images and ideas that would be appealing to them. But his efforts ended up being the catalyst for something much greater than that.
Now, don't get me wrong. Partovi and his folks have worked damned hard at this stuff, and deserve a great deal of credit for what they did. When all this interest suddenly developed, Partovi had the skills to bring all these people together and get them to build something amazing. But they were also lucky to have this wonderful opportunity given to them.
And so I look at the people whom I professionally admire. While they've worked hard to get their acclaim, they've also been the beneficiaries of what the old saints in the church would call Providence. Good ideas were given to them, and they took them and ran with them. Others around them may have worked just as hard, but didn't have good ideas with which to work, and so didn't receive the accolades of their peers.
Having been in the church for years, I've heard numerous lessons about the Parable of the Talents. The moral of the story is very clear, even to the casual reader: be faithful in using the "talents" (the word has a number of meanings) God has given to you for the glory of God, and don't worry about what other talents others might be given. It had never occurred to me, though, that ideas could be just as much of a bestowed gift as the money or skills or whatever that I think about.
And that's finally started to change the way that I think about my professional life. I can look at the success that others are having and be happy for them. Because I can celebrate the gifts they've been given --- including the gift of inspiration --- without it being a reflection on what I have or haven't accomplished.
And as for me? I need to make myself available for inspiration. If I make myself busy trying to do "something", I won't be able to take advantage of an opportunity if it comes along. To be sure, I shouldn't be sitting around eating bon bons. (My weight is too high as it is!) But if I throw myself into activity merely for the sake of activity, I won't be available when inspiration strikes.
This week, I enter my non-teaching ("summer") term. I usually suck at non-teaching terms. I rarely come out of them with any sense of accomplishment or expectation or even just good old-fashioned refreshment and renewal. Sometimes that's because I'm burdened with other duties ... departmental accreditation reports and self-studies, faculty governance, building new courses, and all that. While I have some of those things to be doing over the next few months, the list is much shorter than in many years.
So, I am resolving to use the gift of these three months to restore my spirit.
I'm going to get all this work paperwork done, so that I can enter the next year with a clean slate.
I'm going to go for long walks in the woods, both to try and do something for my weight and just to enjoy the beauty of nature.
I'm going to read a book of fiction, just for the sheer joy of it. (There are books of fiction I've never read that I really should ... many of my students and colleagues would look aghast if they knew what I hadn't read.)
I'm going to rework my email system. 7000 email messages in my buffer is not healthy. I'm going to figure out a way to get that into a manageable work flow and finally give up on the tons of lists I'm on which I think I like but in reality I never read.
I'm going to clean out and organize that huge pile of financial paperwork on my work desk at home so that it doesn't sit there and taunt me every time I walk over there.
I'm going to take my wife away for a week to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary ... and, in-between, I'm going to try and support her as much as I can through the endless pressures of grant-writing.
I'm going to keep up my geocaching streak and quit feeling guilty about the time I spend on it. In fact, I'm going to put a few more caches out to help pay back everyone who's helped me get this amazing streak of consecutive caching days.
I'm going to start prepping for my summer courses a little bit at a time, so that I'm not going nuts the week before the term begins.
And if only half of all of that happens ... I'm not going to worry about it. Because that might mean that something more important happened instead of my arbitrary list.
During the last month, I had a number of interesting encounters with students --- students who needed vocational counseling, students who needed life counseling, students who just wanted to talk about the latest news in computing. If I'd been trying to get too much work done, I would have missed a wonderful opportunity to connect with these future leaders. None of those conversations will show up in my annual performance review. But the important things in life never do.
So ... here's to the next three months. I pray I'll emerge from this time renewed and refreshed.