Monday, June 22, 2015

Back "home" from PLDI

I returned back to NY to resume my internship at IBM yesterday after a great week at PLDI/FCRC.  While I was not able to attend as many talks as I hoped--my PLDI student volunteering duties kept me very busy--I was introduced to a large number of new faces.  Some of these were the truly excellent student volunteers at PLDI who really came through, assisting nervous presenters, counting attendees, guiding people to the right places, and generally just being helpful people you could rely on in a pinch to do odd jobs.  I also met the conference organizers, whose drive to put on a great show really impressed me; particularly Steve Blackburn who was quite literally running back and forth to make sure everything went perfectly.  Still others were the established researchers who wanted to talk to me about my research, their thoughts on "my area", and collaboration opportunities (!!!).

I also had a great time with friends from former internships, and for me, seeing what these folks are working on and how they're doing professionally (a surprising number are now first-year faculty or researchers at industry labs) was one of the highlights of the conference.

Unexpectedly, my work on FlashRelate was given the "Distinguished Artifact" award, which I was informed about mere minutes before my presentation.  It's hard to express what a confidence boost that was.  I couldn't help but think that even if I gave the worst presentation ever*, at least my peers think my work is good.  I put a lot of work into ensuring that the software was polished.  I've been told, and I was starting to believe, that I put *too much* work into the software.  Hey, maybe not!

Which I think raises an opportunity to talk about the contributions of my co-authors.  Ted Hart helped me tremendously with FlashRelate, particularly the testing tools (which he built almost entirely himself).  Ted and Gustavo Soares also made FlashRelate look really professional by developing a web UI that replaced my functional but really awful-looking Excel plugin UI, and they even delivered on my last-minute feature requests.  And finally, Ben Zorn, Sumit Gulwani, and Ted were involved every step of the way in the intellectual development of the work.  FlashRelate went through innumerable revisions from the time we started to the time we finished, and when I look back at our early paper drafts, it is really shocking to see how much the idea changed.  All of these people met with me like a million times, gently nudged me in the right direction, teaching me PL basics, teaching me scientific basics, asking deep questions, recasting seemingly intractable problems in a new light, and finally, teaching me how to sell a good idea.

Lastly, I should point out that my labmate, Emma Tosch, the student volunteer co-chair, took over all my duties without a hitch when I needed to focus on getting my talk ready.  Emma, you rock!

Oh, one more thing--a huge thanks to both SIGPLAN and the NSF for figuring out how to fund my trip to PLDI.  This trip made me realize that there are a ton of people doing their best to bring new people into this community.

In short: great conference!  I look forward to attending next year.

* My precise thought was "even if I barf on the podium out of anxiety ..."  Of course, I did my best not to give the worst presentation ever, and no podium-barfing occured.

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