October 2018 saw the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal, play host to the annual IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human Centric Computer (VL/HCC 2018), attracting researchers interested in visual languages, end-user development, computational thinking and more. Crossing the pond from last year’s event in Raleigh, NC, it carried with it a wide range of engaging research from faces old and new that managed to tempt us back in from the glorious sunshine. The conference took place at the Rectorate Building of Universidade Nova de Lisboa (UNL).
The first day was dedicated to the Graduate Consortium, as well as two workshops – the 5th edition of SEMS (Software Engineering Methods in Spreadsheets) and the inaugural DTSHPS (Designing Technologies to Support Human Problem Solving). I was fortunate to attend the latter, organized by Steve Tanimoto and focusing on tools and techniques to help experts tackle “wicked problems” like climate change, disease, or fake news.
Each of the following three days was filled with presentations on a range of topics from improving expert programmers’ efficiency, to enabling novice end-users to act as programmers themselves. A couple of my personal favourites were Islam Almusaly’s touch-screen keyboard for blocks-based programming, redefining one of its core interaction mechanisms with positive results, as well as Nischal Shrestha’s work on helping experienced programmers in one language transfer to another. However, it was Mary Beth Kery who was the deserving winner of the Best Paper award with her work on helping data scientists manage version control.
All three days of the conference also began with an engaging keynote: Jason Hong kicked the conference off with his work on helping developers protect user privacy in their smartphone applications. Geraldine Fitzpatrick gave us a thought-provoking talk on important considerations for representing the ‘human’ in ‘human-centric computing’, with her work investigating systems for care of the elderly putting our well-meaning but misguided assumptions about the ‘human’ into perspective. Finally, Rodrigo Coutinho discussed his experience in bringing the OutSystems visual language into industry, which undoubtedly got a few of us thinking about who we can sell our research to!
Admittedly, personal highlights were the evening events. Tuesday’s reception was a chance to wind down and reflect on the day’s events with a glass of port in hand and musical entertainment from the wonderful TunaMaria. The following evening was the conference banquet, set within the grounds of the stunning Castelo de São Jorge. Between the delicious food, wine, and conversation, it was enough to make me forget about the temptations of industry profits for a while and decide that academic life was pretty bloody good.
This year in VL/HCC 2019 attendees will be back across the water in Memphis, Tennessee, and from my experience of VL/HCC 2018, I would strongly recommend joining them if you get the chance!
Guest Post by Dr Daniel Rough
Postdoc at Abertay University, Scotland
PhD from University of St Andrews, Scotland