Message from the Director

Spring/Summer 2020 – Software Engineering in the Age of Pandemic

ISR Director Professor Sam MalekI hope all of you are safe and sound in light of the pandemic pandemonium. It has been a crazy few months since I communicated with you last. Like most organizations around the world impacted by COVID-19, ISR has had to make drastic changes to its activities. Notably, we had to cancel the ISR Distinguished Speaker series for the remainder of the year. We are planning to reschedule the visit of our two remaining distinguished speakers, Tim Menzies and Myra Cohen, once the situation improves. We are also reevaluating our future events as the situation evolves.

In other news, at the end of June ISR’s Assistant Director Debra Brodbeck is retiring with approximately 30 years of service at UCI. For most of us, Debi is synonymous with ISR and it is hard to imagine one without the other. She has run the day-to-day operations of the Institute since its inception. I have had the pleasure of working with Debi closely in the past two years as the Director of the Institute. She could not have made the job any easier for me. I am grateful for all of her service to ISR and wish her a wonderful retirement. We are planning to have an event to celebrate Debi’s retirement once such gatherings are allowed again on campus. Please stay tuned for that.

Stay safe!

Software Engineering in the Age of Pandemic

While the pandemic has undoubtedly impacted software professionals all around the world, it is fair to say we are quite lucky. Compared to many other professions, software engineering is relatively pandemic-proof. Software engineers and software companies have long mastered the notion of remote work. Software engineers habitually use numerous software development tools (e.g., version control systems, issue trackers) that among other benefits facilitate remote collaborative work. Similarly, software engineering research is not impacted as drastically as some of the other disciplines, say Biology or Chemistry, where without access to laboratory equipment, it is impossible to conduct certain types of experiments. The exception perhaps is those working on human aspects of software engineering, which naturally involves extensive in-person interaction.

Arguably, the most drastic impact in our field has been on the conferences. So far, numerous software engineering conferences have had to either cancel or move to a later date. This has really challenged the research community, since conferences are the primary publication venues for software engineering research. For the first time in its history, ICSE, the premier conference in the field, has decided to go fully virtual. In fact, ISR is playing a critical role in this, continuing ISR’s long history of service to the research community. ISR professor Crista Lopes has been tapped as the Virtualization Chair of the conference. She is assisted by a team of ISR faculty and students. The main conference is expected to be streamed live from three locations in the world, at three different times in the day, in the second week of July. UCI will be the production headquarter for the Pacific Time zone, aimed to mainly serve North/Central/South America, Asia, and Australia.

It will be interesting to see what will be the impact of the pandemic on the future of software engineering conferences. Virtual conferences have a number of benefits. Among them are the reduction of carbon footprint due to reduced conference travel and increased participation, particularly from underrepresented countries. Lost in a virtual conference, however, are the side conversations and hallway chatter that are regarded by many to be more valuable than the formal technical talks, particularly for junior researchers. In a previous ISR Connector, I wrote about the blurring line between software engineering conferences and journals. If virtual conferences become the norm, I expect that line to get even more blurry and possibly non-existent. We are at a critical time. It all depends on how successful the virtual conferences will be this year. If successful, in-person software engineering conferences may soon become a thing of the past, for better or worse.

This article appeared in ISR Connector issue: