Debra Brodbeck, Assistant Director of ISR, Retires after 32 Years at UCI

By Chancellor’s Professor and Director Emeritus Richard N. Taylor

ISR Assistant Director Debra A. BrodbeckDebra Brodbeck, for many the personal and enduring face of ISR, is retiring at the end of June. While she is ready for the next phase of her life, her departure from ISR will leave an enormous hole. Debi joined the staff of UCI in 1988 and has served in a variety of roles, starting as a research programmer and progressing ultimately to the role of ISR’s Assistant Director. I had the privilege—and joy—of supervising her for most of those years. Debi was instrumental in the formation of ISR, its predecessor organization IRUS (Irvine Research Unit in Software), and in fostering ISR’s development and impact over the past twenty years.

Debi came to Southern California from Pittsburgh when she was 19, already knowing how to program in COBOL, RPG, FORTRAN, and Assembly. After starting college at Saddleback, she transferred as an undergraduate student to UCI’s Department of Information and Computer Science. Earning bachelor’s degrees in both Mathematics and ICS in 1988, Debi was hired as a programmer/analyst to support activities within the Arcadia research project, a multi-university, multi-disciplinary effort that lasted well into the 2000’s. That stint as a programmer only lasted a year, as Debi decided to return to Pittsburgh to obtain her master’s degree in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduating from Pitt, UCI proved a strong magnet, as Debi returned, not only again as a research programmer but also as a key staff member in the newly formed IRUS, which emphasized building relationships with industry.

This new role marked a major change in Debi’s career, and provided a major benefit to UCI. The Arcadia project had shown to DARPA, the software engineering community at large, and certainly to the individual investigators participating in the project, the benefits of large, multi-organization research efforts. But critically, everyone involved realized that working across organizational boundaries, especially across the university/industry divide, was difficult and required concerted effort to develop and sustain such research partnerships. It was in support of this mission—building technical and organizational relationships—that Debi found her niche and thrived as a professional.

Richard N. Taylor, Lily May Taylor, and Debra Brodbeck in Hawaii in 2011.Building relationships in the academic/industrial world takes many skills and involves many types of activities and events. It requires understanding the various motivations and the sometimes-conflicting goals of the participants, technical knowledge, a strong management ability, and it certainly requires the human touch and the (un)common graces of friendliness, consideration, compassion, and humility. Debi excelled in all of these.

In the 1990’s, Debi exercised her considerable skills in the service of IRUS, and especially in the particular role of organizing the Southern California SPIN (Software Process Improvement Network) meetings, which IRUS sponsored, and later the Bay Area Roundtables (BART), capitalizing on the heady days of the late 1990’s. Orchestrating meetings, organizing events, identifying and hosting speakers, managing publicity—all were within Debi’s purview. As IRUS expanded and matured, Debi was instrumental in helping the effort to “graduate” IRUS into becoming ISR, a full-fledged Organized Research Unit (ORU), which took place in 1999. For the next twenty years Debi was the organizational master within ISR, overseeing its daily operations as well as assisting in its organizational development and perennial campus review.

For ISR, Debi managed numerous events including the annual ISR Distinguished Speaker Series, which over the past two decades has seen leading researchers and practitioners of software engineering from around the world speak at UCI. In organizing these events, Debi was always mindful of achieving the most goals for the most people, never allowing one perspective to overly dominate. Debi always kept focus on building relationships, not empires, and did so through diplomatic handling of the competing issues—and individuals.

Former Director Prof. Emeritus Richard N. Taylor and Assistant Director Debra Brodbeck at Taylor’s retirement dinner in 2013.Debi’s organizational skills were perhaps most obviously demonstrated in her role of managing the 2011 International Conference on Software Engineering, a 1,100-person event which was held, over nine days, in Waikiki. Four years of effort by Debi (and others) led to a very successful event, a critical achievement given the financial problems incurred by some of the immediately preceding ICSEs. (Of course, not everything about organizing ICSE in Hawaii was “hard work.” After all, we had to decide which of several competing companies on Oahu would be selected to perform at the conference luau. And that was on top of the site/hotel selection “work.")

Debi has been a special friend to me, my wife Lily May, and my children over these years. My daughter, Lyrica, grew up in the years of IRUS and ISR and always looked up to Debi as “a big girl.” Lyrica especially respected Debi in her years of ice skating and gratefully bought a pair of special skates from her—same size boot! Debi, along with ISR programmer/analyst Kari Nies and Lily May, also organized my retirement party in 2013. Truly more of an alumni event than just a retirement party, through that event, Debi helped continue her ongoing mission of building relationships, for the betterment of the software engineering and UCI communities. It has always been a joy to work with Debi, the best of the best!

After retirement Debi says she’s going to relax a bit. Knowing her, somehow I find that a bit hard to believe. But I know she’s spending a lot of time looking after her elderly mother, and I know she is eager to spend more time in her garden and engaging with many of the arts and crafts that she has enjoyed over the years. Bookbinding anyone?

Whatever her future activities, Debi will be long remembered and sorely missed at UCI. Thank you, Debi, for wonderful years of productive service!

This article appeared in ISR Connector issue: