This article is published in the January 2011 issue.

Tapia Conference 2011: Reshaped by Feedback

To bring a fresh perspective, the founders of the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity Conference chose a General Chair for the 10-year anniversary who had never attended the conference. When Richard Tapia himself called, it was such an interesting opportunity that I couldn’t decline. After highlighting the program—to be held April 3-5 in San Francisco—I’ll explain the process that led to it.

Our top goal was to find luminaries and rising stars who are also great speakers. Based on feedback (see below), we’ve increased the number of plenary speakers:

  • Blaise Aguera y Arcas of Microsoft, who Technology Review selected as a 2008 Young Innovator, will give a talk on “Dynamic and Augmented Reality for Maps.
  • Deborah Estrin, the Jon Postel Professor of Computer Science at UCLA and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, will talk on “Participatory Sensing: From Ecosystems to Human Systems.”
  • Alan Eustace, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Research at Google, will give an after-dinner talk entitled “Organizing the World’s Information.
  • Illya Hicks, Associate Professor in the Computational and Applied Mathematics Department at Rice University and recipient of the 2005 Optimization Prize for Young Researchers, will talk on “Discrete Optimization Techniques for Network Analysis.”
  • Ayanna Howard, Associate Professor in the ECE School at Georgia Tech who Technology Review selected as a 2003 Young Innovator, will give the talk “SnoMotes – Robotic Scientific Explorers for Understanding Climate Change.
  • John Kubiatowicz, CS Professor at UC Berkeley who U.S. News and World Report named as a Person to Watch in 2004, will give the talk “Reinventing Operating Systems for Manycore Computing.”
  • Patty Lopez of Intel, a winner of Hewlett Packard’s Technical Leadership Award in 2001 and co-founder of Latinas in Computing, will talk on “Testing to Ensure that Moore’s Law Continues.”
  • Irving Wladawsky-Berger, former chair of the IBM Academy of Engineering and the 2001 HENAAC Hispanic Engineer of the Year, will give the Ken Kennedy Memorial Lecture on “The Changing Nature of Research and Innovation in the 21st Century.

The rest of the program (

  • Keeps popular sessions from 2009 (doctoral consortium, resume workshop, grad school workshop, career advice workshop, student poster session, town hall, banquet, and dance).
  • Adds a few fresh ones as experiments for 2011 (lunch with successful local people, opportunity poster session and meetup, see the city), and
  • Offers five “Birds of a Feather” or panel sessions proposed and run by attendees.

Reshaping Tapia

How should we evaluate which ideas best match Tapia 2011? We decided to first reflect on its mission, and write it down. As it would shape the program, there was a lot of discussion and even disagreements between founders of the conference. The result:

The goal of the Tapia Conferences is to bring together undergraduate and graduate students, professionals, and faculty in CS&E from all backgrounds and ethnicities to:

  • Celebrate the diversity that currently exists in CS&E;
  • Connect with others with common backgrounds, ethnicities, and gender so as to create communities that extend beyond the conference; 
  • Receive advice from and make useful contacts with CS&E leaders in academia and industry; and 
  • Be inspired by great presentations and conversations with successful people in CS&E who have similar backgrounds, ethnicities, and gender to the attendee.”

We next decided to ask students what they liked in addition to asking past organizers, much like getting feedback from students as well as past instructors when teaching a new course. We polled Tapia 2009 attendees in May 2010 to see which sessions they attended and enjoyed and to solicit new ideas. From the 141 respondents (35% of Tapia 2009), we saw strong positive reviews for the resume workshop, the student poster session, the doctoral consortium, the town hall meeting, the banquet, and many invited speakers. We also learned that many talks based on submitted papers were unpopular, the many parallel events were poorly attended, the conference needed more visibility, and the conference was probably one-half day too long.

We brainstormed about the feedback and came up with a tentative plan and several new ideas that we tested with a follow-up survey in June. Although a few proved unpopular, the 2009 attendees liked the following:

  • Given that more than two-thirds of attendees are students, make sure most events are attractive to students.
  • Have more single-track sessions so that attendees have more opportunities to share the same experiences.
  • Take advantage of being in San Francisco by having one long lunch with successful Silicon Valley people.
  • Try leaving the hotel to see local sites so as to bond and to encourage attendance at other sessions.
  • Add some panels or Birds of a Feather sessions based on proposals by attendees so that more people can participate in shaping the program.

There was also one thought-provoking comment in the first survey that influenced our thinking:

Create opportunities for people to do something REAL together. …  interviews tell us that people need good reasons to have enduring relationships. … more creativity in hooking people up is needed.

In response, we are trying to link students with professionals and professors who have research opportunities. Hence, in addition to the poster sessions where students show off what they have done, we added an Opportunity Poster Session for students to learn what they might want to do next. First, some professionals and professors will try to recruit students to work remotely on research projects. (With email, Twitter, Skype, and so on, many projects are already geographically distributed; most open source projects involve people who have never met!) In addition to research projects, the Opportunity Poster Session will also include universities recruiting for graduate school and companies hoping to hire. A “meetup” session on the final afternoon, including both the student and the opportunity posters, acts as a networking opportunity and a chance to solidify enduring relationships.

Given the importance of feedback in Tapia 2011, we’ll survey during and after the conference to see what worked.

We hope to see you and your students April 3-5 in beautiful San Francisco for what we believe will be a stimulating and memorable event.

David Patterson is the Pardee Professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley and General Chair of the 10th Anniversary Tapia Conference 2011 in San Francisco.

Tapia Conference 2011: Reshaped by Feedback