Ivica Crnkovic is the meeting ambassador who brought the International Conference on Software Engineering 2018 to Gothenburg, one of the world’s leading conferences in its genre.
Ivica Crnkovic is Professor of Software Engineering at both Chalmers in Gothenburg and Mälardalen University in Västerås. He is also a guest professor at the University of Osijek in Croatia. Ivica has an extensive CV; his name appears in more than 200 publications in software engineering.
OUTSTANDING SUPPORT IN GOTHENBURG WAS THE DECIDING FACTOR
The journey towards what would be the most successful conference in the history of the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) began about four years ago. Ivica had decided to apply to become an organiser at the time that he was moving to Gothenburg to assume his position at Chalmers. He contacted the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre to see what was available in terms of conference facilities, where he also met Anna Hylander from the Gothenburg Convention Bureau and then the ball started rolling.
“I didn’t know much about Gothenburg at the time, but I wanted to host the conference and knew that I wanted it to be held in Sweden, either in Stockholm or Gothenburg. I was in the process of moving to Gothenburg and when I met with representatives from the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre and Göteborg & Co, I understood that outstanding support was available in Gothenburg. At that point I knew for sure – Gothenburg was the choice for the ICSE and nothing else would do,” says Ivica.
The discussions about where to hold ICSE 2018 began back in 2013, since the conference rotates between different parts of the world. Some years the conference is held in the US, other years in Europe or the rest of the world, and in 2018 it was time for a city in Europe. The Board of Directors holds a conference to choose the ICSE organiser four years in advance. The candidates explain why they should have the opportunity to organise the ICSE.
“Besides myself there were candidates from Madrid, Paris and Dublin. My argument for holding the conference in Sweden was that the software engineering industry in Scandinavia in general, and Sweden in particular, is extremely strong with software companies and companies that develop high-tech products with a large amount of software, such as the automotive industry or telecommunications. In Scandinavia, especially in Sweden, many talented researchers work in the field and collaboration between academia and industry is excellent, which is not that common.
Despite fierce competition, Ivica was chosen to be the organiser. Now he had to choose the location for the conference and present a proposal.
“Together with Gothenburg Convention Bureau at Göteborg & Co I formulated a presentation and a budget that was presented to the Board of Directors. Many attractive factors have to be considered. The site must be accessible with enough hotel rooms, and not too expensive. There must be strong researchers and research groups in the region and it is a plus if there is a link to industry. Gothenburg has it all and the Board approved the proposal.
Having the opportunity to organise the ICSE is extremely prestigious; those who get to do so are the best of the best,” says Ivica. He compares it with cities who want to arrange the Olympics or World Championships, indicating that it is an extremely important event in the field.
In 2018, when the ICSE was held in Gothenburg, the conference celebrated its 40th anniversary and it was also the year that the field of software engineering turned 50. Much of the conference was dedicated to the 50-year celebration.
“We had extraordinary guests, such as Margaret Hamilton, who introduced the concept of software engineering when she developed software at NASA for the Apollo moon landing. She is also a Lego character: “famous women in space”. Listening to her was an amazing experience, she became a rock star for the young researchers.
RECORD-BREAKING YEAR WITH SATISFIED DELEGATES
In 2018 the conference also broke records to become the most successful edition to date. A total of about 1,800 visitors from all over the world attended the conference and the reactions were extremely positive.
“Many felt that Sweden is a fantastic country. The conference also received extremely high marks for organisation and everything flowed smoothly. Many said that they would like to return to Gothenburg. The awesome thing is that many of them return to their top-ranked universities to lecture to thousands of students and say “when I was in Gothenburg….”.
Ivica has personally attended every ICSE conference since 1999 and has had the opportunity to see and experience many conference facilities and cities. He feels that Gothenburg holds its own well as a host for a major conference among fierce competition.
“…this is definitely the best conference I have attended in my whole life…”
“Definitely, Gothenburg has much to recommend it. There is a great facility for large conferences, and it is centrally located. And as the chairperson of the IEEE for computer science said “…this is definitely the best conference I have attended in my whole life…” The IEEE, the largest international association of engineers and researchers, was one of two principal sponsors of the conference.
When all was said and done a few months after the conference was held, Ivica concludes that the ICSE in Gothenburg was the most successful edition of the conference to date.
“According to the survey carried out during the conference, an impressive 96 per cent of all delegates stated that they were satisfied or highly satisfied. Just as many, 96 per cent, responded that they were pleased with their overall impression of Gothenburg as a destination. And 91 per cent would gladly return for a new conference. Very few participants complained, and when they did so it generally concerned the lack of soft drinks and similar issues. But the vast majority were extremely favourable, including on social media.
CHALLENGES THAT PROVIDE RETURNS
During the preparations for the ICSE 2018, Ivica and his colleagues encountered quite a number of challenges; lots of work goes into the planning of a big conference.
“We faced various types of challenges. One such challenge was to hold an attractive high-quality conference from a research standpoint and to bring in the best researchers to present their work. As above, when organising such a large conference it is also a challenge to get everything to work smoothly. Sweden has a good reputation in technology and delegates who travel here expect everything to function smoothly, without problems. Many delegates bring a couple of computers with them and it is important, for instance, to provide Wi-Fi service that performs well. We organised about 50 parallel events over the course of one week, including a reception and a banquet for 1,100 people. When you attend a conference, of course you remember the presentations, but you also remember everything related to it.
Despite the challenges, Ivica would still recommend the same journey to others.
“Of course I would. A few days ago a young colleague came to ask about another conference. I replied that you have to think of it as though you are doing something for the community and that you are networking. It’s an incredible amount of work since you have to accomplish it outside of your regular duties; you end up just sleeping and working for several months. But it is highly rewarding, so it is worth it and I think it gives good returns.
Many people benefit from having large conferences in Gothenburg. When the ICSE was held in Gothenburg it was highly advantageous for Chalmers in general, including for the students.
“For Chalmers it meant top-ranked researchers came and opened their eyes to Chalmers and had a chance to see what we do here. It represents a seal of quality for both Chalmers and the city of Gothenburg. We see the benefits when recruiting young yet already highly acclaimed researchers who would like to come here from countries such as the US. Many people also recognise the value of our good relationship with industry. And for our students it was valuable to meet prominent researchers within their field of study. It provides them with the opportunity to expand their networks, which is extremely important in this area.
Ivica has just finished writing his report and closing all of the accounts for the Gothenburg conference.
“We are currently in the process of tying up all the loose ends in the aftermath of the conference; last week I presented my report in the US. So we can now say that the ICSE 2018 is officially over. Next year the 2019 ICSE will be held in Montreal and I am already fielding questions from the organiser there. I am happy to serve as a sounding board and give advice, that’s how conferences keep getting better and better. For me otherwise the big news right now is that my proposal for an AI initiative at Chalmers has been approved. It concerns a big initiative that will extend over 10 years. An AI centre will be established to bring in researchers and to pursue collaboration with industry.
Since the interview Ivica was also awarded a diploma from Municipal Council chairperson Åse-Lill Törnqvist for his important contribution to Gothenburg as a city of meetings. Each year Gothenburg honours people who were particularly meaningful for the city and contributed to the development of Gothenburg. Read more about the awards ceremony here: goteborgco.se/en/2018/12/meeting-ambassadors-honoured-by-gothenburg/