Advice for First-Time ICSE Participants

David Notkin, Chair of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, shares advice he gives to his graduate students who are about to attend ICSE for the first time.

Why are you coming to the conference? The major reason is that it's good for you:

  1. to see the people who've written papers you've read,
  2. to see what's current in software engineering research,
  3. to start to build relationships with other researchers in the field,
  4. to tell people what you're doing and to find out what they are doing, and
  5. to find out that you're at least as smart and good as many of those researchers.

So, you should work hard to attend lots of sessions and read lots of the papers. But it's unlikely that you'll go to every session: some will be genuinely uninteresting to you. In addition, the most important part of a conference is "schmoozing", standing in hallways talking to colleagues (satisfying most or all of the items in the list above). You'll see lots of people doing this.

It's scary trying to meet "famous" people. It's usually best to get an adviser or a colleague to introduce you to others. But you shouldn't rely solely on this: it's OK (actually, it's more than just OK) to be a little (or a lot) pushy. If you see people you want to listen to having a conversation, feel free to move on up to them and try to listen (unless for some reason it seems like it's a personal conversation and is thus inappropriate). Sometimes they'll acknowledge you, sometimes they won't. But it's worth trying to get involved in these conversations when possible. (Even listening by itself can be valuable.) Of course, the best way to get involved is to ask a question: it flatters people and makes them respond to you. And you learn something.

Trying to have meals with folks is a really good way to meet them. Some people you know probably know other folks; make sure to remind them to bring you along if they set something up. There are occasionally womens' lunches, which I recommend that you join (if eligible); watch the bulletin board for announcements.

Hang out some with the folks you already know. But don't do this exclusively, since you can do that elsewhere, but you can only schmooze with other folks here. Debriefing with each other on sessions, papers, interactions with others, etc. is of value, though, and you should do this with each other on occasion.

I hope these guidelines help your first time at ICSE more enjoyable and professionally satisfying.