Intentional Changes Underway in the Software Engineering Conferences

5 min readNov 24, 2023

By Laurie Williams, SE3 Chair 2019–2023

stock.adobe/Photocreo Bednarek

I was honored to serve as the ICSE Steering Committee chair from 2019–2023 and as the Inaugural Chair of the SE3 committee (more on that below) from 2020–2023. In May, I passed the ICSE steering committee chair on to Arie van Deursen and the SE3 chair on to Max DiPenta.

During my time as Steering Committee chair, we all successfully navigated Covid, virtual, hybrid, and in-person conferences … whew! The work of the organizers of the conferences during 2020–2022 deserve such honor — navigating new processes, often doing double the amount of work done by organizers of past years (which was already a monstrous job).

We planned and executed a number of changes that took several years to implement, in some cases — but we are now seeing their effects. I provide a highlight of the four biggest changes.

Creating the SE3 meta steering committee. We have an ecosystem of software engineering conferences. In 2021, we founded a meta steering committee of the three biggest software engineering conferences — ASE, FSE, and ICSE. The members of the committee are two members and the chair from the steering committee for each of these three conferences and the chairs and past chairs of ACM SIGSOFT and IEEE TCSE. We recognize that the software engineering community extends well beyond those three conferences — but it seems tractable to at least begin with obtaining agreement among the three largest conferences.

The committee meets monthly and discusses many topics that cross the whole ecosystem of conferences rather than each conference making its own “local” decisions and policies. In this way, that advice can easily be passed from one conference to another. We were able to talk about hybrid conferences, journal-first policies, arXiv policies and many other topics. It was so amazing to be part of a team all dedicated to the good of the entire software engineering community, without making sub-optimal decisions to protect their own conference’s interest.

In February 2020 (pre-Covid), the SE3 launched a large survey to obtain the community’s feedback on three large potential changes that will be discussed below. The survey was answered by 687 conference attendees from around the globe. The outcome of the survey was presented at the November 2020 Town Hall that was held during the FSE virtual conference. The committee acted upon the community feedback in making three large changes.

Temporal distribution of conferences. The community had expressed dissatisfaction with the annual cadence of the conferences, primarily that sometimes ASE and FSE were scheduled quite close to each other. The SE3 committee discussed a strategy of spreading the conferences out more and having a regular schedule (rather the ASE and FSE moving months every other year). In the community survey, we proposed ICSE in April or early May; FSE in late June/July; and ASE in October/mid November. The community survey indicated 68% support for this idea, 22% neutrality, and 10% against. The negative comments were mostly about this schedule relative to where they were in the world, such as higher negativity in the southern hemisphere. Also, particularly in North America, some wanted ICSE to be after the spring semester was closed. But, with general support, we moved forward with these changes so that we could achieve the goal of spreading conferences more throughout the annual calendar. Based upon hotel contracts that were already signed, this change fully starts in 2024.

Geographic distribution of conferences. To aid in sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint of all our conference travel, we considered a goal of geographically distributing conferences throughout the world such that every region of the world has a major conference annually. The following table illustrates this distribution:

The community feedback on this idea was 65% positive and 26% neutral with only 9% not liking the idea. We enacted this change, though with conference contracts already in place for several years, the change could not be fully implemented until 2023. The survey comments indicated those who were negative on the idea felt that we should have fewer in-person conferences and more hybrid conferences.

Multiple review cycles. The SE3 committee studied other communities, particularly the database and security communities, which allow authors to have major revisions with reviewer continuity. These communities felt the quality of the papers improved with this change. The community survey indicated 62% support, 21% neutrality, and 17% negativity to this idea. With this general support, we moved forward for ICSE and FSE to have multiple review cycles, which began with the 2024 instances of ICSE and FSE. ICSE’s implementation of “multiple reviews” involved two deadlines with time for revision based upon reviewer feedback prior to the final decision being made after review of the revision. FSE’s implementation involved one cycle with the possibility of a major revision based upon reviewer feedback. Those who were not in favor of the change expressed concern about higher reviewer load and confusion about the differences between conference and journals if both allow major revisions.

My experience with being on and then chairing the ICSE steering committee is that the steering committees work hard to serve the community and make the best decisions. We try new processes out for a few, maybe three, years to work the kinks out and get past the “change is always hard” phase. It’s possible that in the coming years, the community may not be positive about these changes. I’m confident that the SE3 and conference steering committees will be willing to “turn the ship” toward the community’s wishes. These committees strive to support a thriving and vibrant software engineering research and education community.

I’ll close by saying that we have an amazing community of dedicated volunteers who work so hard for the benefit of all of us. I am honored to have served the community as chair during 2019–2023. Thank you!

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SIGSOFT is the ACM Special Interest Group on Software Engineering