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On the future of computer science

On the future of computer science

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Full text also available in the ACM Digital Library as PDF | HTML | Digital Edition

Tags: Computing organizations, Computing profession, Women

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We are delighted to have as our first article in this special issue on "Being a Woman on the Web," a transcript of an interview with the President of the ACM, Gabriele Kotsis. Before we dive into the interview, though, we'd like to share something about Gabriele's current work and her past achievements. A longstanding impactful ACM member, she's been an inspiration for both of us.

Gabriele Kotsis is Full Professor in Computer Science at Johannes Kepler University (JKU) Linz, Austria, and a Distinguished Member of ACM. Receiving recognition for her work from the very beginning was doubtlessly a motivating factor for her and her decision to dedicate her career to research in academia and to the scientific community. (Her master's thesis, submitted at the University of Vienna in 1991, was honored with the student sponsorship award of the Austrian Computer Society, and her Ph.D. in 1995 was honored with the highly prestigious Heinz Zemanek Award in 1995.) In 2002, she was one of the co-founding chairs of the working group for professors in computer science within the Austrian Computer Society (OCG). From 2003 to 2007 she was President of the Austrian Computer Society, being the first female to hold this position in Austria. In addition to her two-term presidency at OCG, Gabriele remains actively involved with the Editorial Board of the OCG Book Series, the working group Fem-IT (Association of Female University Professors in IT), and the OCG award committee.

From 2007 to 2015 she served as Vice-Rector for Research at JKU. Her responsibilities included the development of R&D strategies and policies within the university, coordination and interaction with national and international governmental organizations and funding bodies, and the establishment of collaborations with other research organizations and business partners. Since 2019, Gabriele has been Austria's national coordinator in the ASEA-UNINET academic research network, which promotes cooperation among European and South-East Asian public universities.


Receiving recognition for her work from the very beginning was doubtlessly a motivating factor for her and her decision to dedicate her career to research.


In 2016, she received an award in appreciation of her accomplishments regarding the ACM WomEncourage conference series. Gabriele is a founding member of the ACM Europe Council, serving on the Council from 2008 to 2016. In 2014, she became an ACM Distinguished Member for her contributions to workload characterization for parallel and distributed systems, and the founding of ACM Europe. From 2016 to 2020, she has been an elected Member-at-Large of the ACM Council. In June 2020 she was elected as President of ACM.

XRDS: Can you share some reflections on your aspirations as a young girl?

GABRIELE KOTSIS: When I was a young girl, my interests were manifold. I enjoyed playing soccer in the famous parks of Vienna, such as the "Prater," I had a collection of Barbie dolls, but was not so much interested in dressing and styling them up but in creating homes for them. But what truly fascinated me were Lego bricks, I spent hours and days constructing huge spaceships, always my own designs, because following the instructions on the boxes was a boring exercise for me. I do remember receiving strong support in all my activities from my parents and this continued throughout my career.

XRDS: As a leader in the field of the computing sciences, can you share a few reflections on your professional journey. Do you remember any key moments that were crucial for your journey? Any key challenges you had to overcome?

GK: I discovered my passion for computer science and research rather late. At school, we had no computer related courses, but I liked statistics very much. When applying at the University of Vienna, I was advised not to take only statistics, because of lack of job opportunities. Business informatics was recommended to me. During my studies, I noticed that I was much more interested in the informatics rather than the business courses in the study program. So I decided to do my master's thesis at a computer science department. I was working on interconnection topologies for parallel computers, a hot topic at that time. My supervisor did a very critical first review of my thesis, which was initially frustrating but then motivated me to work even harder. And it was worth the effort because the thesis received the best possible grade, an award from the Austrian Computer Society and resulted in my first published paper, which was the starting point for my scientific career.

XRDS: Did you have family, friends and/or mentors who had an important role in your successes?

GK: In my master's thesis, I was working on criteria and methods on how to best interconnect the nodes of a parallel computer. In my scientific career, I learned quickly that it is the connections among humans that are essential. I am grateful to my initial mentors, Alois Ferscha and Günter Haring, for introducing me to the scientific community and for opening up their networks for me. I was fascinated by being able to meet so many of the big names that I knew from the cover of my text books, in person. And it was also important for me seeing other females being successful scientists and professors. I am honored and happy that in many cases those contacts have evolved from a professional level to long-term friendships, including Gerti Kappel, Christine Strauss, Maria Carla Calzarossa, Monique Becker, and Wendy Hall.

XRDS: What would you share for today's early professionals working in this field?

GK: Curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking should be the driving forces for your professional life! Never take things for granted! Never accept arguments along the line of "it always has been that way!"

XRDS: What, if anything, do you think needs to change in our field to ensure an even brighter future?

GK: No other discipline or technology will have more impact on shaping our future than computer science and technology. This implies a major responsibility for our community, not only from a scientific and technical perspective in being able to provide correct solutions, but also from an ethical and societal point of view. So we need to promote interdisciplinary work, the work in diverse teams, aspects of inclusion, impact on the environment, and so on.

And a last remark, I wish that we will be able to overcome this current trend of quantification and start looking into quality again. Computer scientists shouldn't be measured by the number of papers they write but by the quality of the content in the papers! Students shouldn't be measured by the number of courses (or ECTS) they pass each semester, but by the progress they make in shaping their personality and knowledge. Companies should not be measured by the number of goods or services they produce, but by the impact of those services and products on our society and/or environment.

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Elizabeth Churchill is a Director of UX at Google. With a background in psychology, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science, she draws on social, computer, engineering, and data sciences to create innovative end-user applications and services. She has built research teams at Google, eBay, Yahoo, PARC, and FujiXerox. Her current focus is on the design of effective designer and developer tooling. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and honorary doctorates from the University of Sussex and the University of Stockholm. She is a member of the Association for Computer Machinery's (ACM) CHI Academy, is an ACM Fellow, Distinguished Scientist, and an ACM Distinguished Speaker. She served as the ACM's Vice President for two years, from 2018–2020. In 2016 she received a Citris-Banatao Institute Award Athena Award for Women in Technology for her executive leadership. She has been named one of the top women leaders in UX over the last several years.

Nova Ahmed works with systems, humans, and the work that lies in between to connect humans with computing. She received her Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology (USA) and returned to Bangladesh to serve her home country. She tries to develop solutions to problems of Bangladesh that require very special attention (e.g., low-cost, socially acceptable, etc.). She has a particular interest in involving women and children in computing, and has been working actively in that area in her time dedicated as a volunteer. In her free time, she is busy with her two daughters and fun partner. Dr. Ahmed is an associate professor at North South University. A founder and EC of National Young Academy Bangladesh, EC of Global Young Academy, Fellow of Sangat, the feminist network in South Asia, and founding board member of Kaan Pete Roi. She is also an active volunteer of the Bangladesh Mathematical Olympiad, Children's Science Congress, and the Missing Daughter's Initiative. She is the Chair of SIGCHI, Dhaka Chapter in Bangladesh.

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