Computer Architecture Today

Informing the broad computing community about current activities, advances and future directions in computer architecture.

The SIGARCH elections have concluded and we welcome the new SIGARCH leadership! The new executive committee (EC) will be: Babak Falsafi (Chair), Natalie Enright Jerger (Vice-chair), Karin Strauss (Treasurer), Sarita Adve (Past chair), Joel Emer, Boris Grot, Martha Kim, and Jose Martinez (Directors).

As we pass the torch, we look back with a deep sense of humility that our community entrusted us with this responsibility four years ago. We made many changes to the operation of the EC and launched several new initiatives. Throughout, we were inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of hundreds of volunteers who enabled, and in many cases, initiated, these activities. As we like to say, SIGARCH is you! And so we want to share with you our pride in our community by recapping some highlights of our accomplishments together over the past four years.

We started by sharpening our mission statement to highlight three pillars: enabling premier fora for technical exchange, talent development and recognition, and outreach to broaden our impact. Our annual reports provide details on how we strived to serve this mission. Notable highlights follow next.

The Computer Architecture Today Blog

We rebooted our communications within and outside the computer architecture community. The Computer Architecture Today blog, in particular, has emerged as an effective digital meeting place for our community. It has covered topics as diverse as technological trends in computing and their implications for computer architects, our conferences and review processes, and diversity and inclusion in our field.  Researchers from adjacent fields have addressed architects through the blog and some blog posts have been republished in CRA’s Computing Community Consortium (CCC) blog for wider exposure. In the last year alone, the blog featured 48 posts and more than 80,000 page views! SIGPLAN recently announced its blog, inspired by ours!

Creating a diverse and inclusive community

Over the last two years, the architecture community has mobilized through a broad range of activities to make diversity and inclusiveness central tenets of all our endeavors. SIGARCH has played a key role in this process. Our blog served as the de facto platform to expose problems, promote solutions, and provide a voice for the community to express itself on these issues. We formed SIGARCH CARES, a committee to provide support to individuals who experience harassment or discrimination at SIGARCH events. Official recognition by ACM enabled SIGMICRO to soon join and other communities have followed with SIGCOMM CARES, SIGGRAPH CARES, and soon to be announced SIGPLAN CARES. The work of our community influenced ACM’s new harassment policy and was the impetus for a new ACM-level Diversity and Inclusion Council, which will be co-chaired by our own Natalie Enright Jerger. We are working with ACM to explore broadening the mandate of CARES to provide support in situations stemming from other forms of ethical violations and power abuse. Besides impact within ACM, our community’s work has been presented to the CRA board and at CRA’s Snowbird conference.  A partial summary of all of these activities appears here. There is certainly much that still remains to be done, but we can be proud that our community has moved the needle on this important issue not just within architecture but across Computer Science and Engineering.

Women In Computer Architecture (WICARCH)

WICARCH was formed to build a community to support women computer architects. We made it an official subcommittee of SIGARCH in 2017 and the central point for coordination of our diversity and inclusion efforts. The WICARCH web site contains a directory of about 100 women in computer architecture and an ongoing series of featured profiles. The WICARCH Slack community has 198 participants who support each other in ways ranging from providing mentoring and advice to sharing successes to advertising opportunities and more.  The WICARCH YouTube channel hosts a monthly webinar series featuring women architect speakers. A brochure detailing profiles of women architects on the job market last year was appreciated by many universities. As with most successful endeavors, other communities are seeking to emulate WICARCH’s activities!

“Meet a Senior Architect” mentoring program

Our mentoring program at ISCA provides students the opportunity to meet 1-on-1 with a senior architect for about half an hour at the conference. A pilot begun in 2016 featured 17 mentors and 33 students. In 2019, we had ~100 mentors and 182 students! Feedback from students has included comments such as: “Most valuable experience I had at a conference;” “I am 10 times more excited about ISCA now;” “Makes approaching senior members far less intimidating;” and more. We have used the conference registration form to find interested mentors and mentees and are now automating the process of mentor-mentee matching to enable easy replication of this program in other conferences and communities.

Visioning workshops

The visioning workshop program seeks to catalyze and enable innovative research within computer architecture, and between computer architecture and other areas. The inaugural workshop, “Trends in Machine Learning,” brought together some of the top academic and industry researchers in machine learning, and had 186 attendees. Video recordings of the talks were professionally edited and are part of the ACM Digital Library and inaugurated the SIGARCH YouTube channel. The recently concluded second workshop on “Agile and Open Hardware Design for Next-Generation Computing” had a similarly distinguished roster of speakers covering the compute stack. The next workshop on “Hybrid Biological Computer Systems” offers the opportunity of exchange of ideas in an even more interdisciplinary and emerging research area.

And so much more… 

The lifeblood of our community is our technical conferences, which are all thriving, along with an increasingly vibrant ecosystem of associated workshops and tutorials. We honor our colleagues through a number of awards, including (with TCCA) the new outstanding dissertation award, recognition of recent retirees, and remembrances of our dearly departed colleagues. We support an extensive program of student travel grants and also provide assistance for childcare and for people with disabilities.  As we kept the old trains running and added new ones, we are happy to report that through careful stewardship, we remain financially strong with a substantial (and larger) fund balance.

Finally, although we cannot take credit, we can certainly take enormous pride in seeing two of our own win the 2017 Turing award and the first woman win the Eckert Mauchly award. It is certainly exciting to enter the “new golden age for computer architecture!

A message from the (past) chair

Clearly it takes a lot of work from a lot of people to keep an organization such as SIGARCH running. But it has been a particularly special privilege for me to work with the SIGARCH EC. We changed the operation of the EC – as in, we vastly increased the workload of each EC member! The EC became a fully working committee with each member charged with a substantial portfolio of activities, monthly teleconference meetings, and many emails in between. Every meeting had a packed agenda with everyone weighing in and remarkably every decision was made based on consensus. Suffice to say that it has been a career highlight to have the opportunity to work with such a diligent, caring, thoughtful, and personable group of people. It is no wonder that at the end of every EC meeting, I came away inspired and energized to do more!

Thank you, Joel Emer, for leading the mentoring program and co-leading the visioning workshops; Babak Falsafi, for rebooting and chairing communications; Natalie Enright Jerger, for chairing awards and rebooting WICARCH; Scott Mahlke, for chairing CACM Research Highlights nominations; Partha Ranganathan, for embracing the burden of Treasurer with the perfect combination of enthusiasm and caution for new and old initiatives; Karin Strauss, for constant oversight and stewardship of our large conference portfolio and co-leading the visioning workshops; and David Wood, for the assurance of your presence and sage advice as past chair that came to our rescue countless times.  Thank you all for all of your collective wisdom on every matter we discussed!

There are a few non-EC volunteers without whom many of our initiatives would simply not have taken off. Alvin Lebeck is the best editor we could have hoped for founding the blog – the blog is successful because of Alvy’s vision for it and his attention to countless details. Boris Grot’s work on the web site and Adrian Sampson’s work on our social media presence were essential to the communications reboot. Margaret Martonosi and Kathryn McKinley were key parts of the team that created CARES. There could not have been better founding co-chairs – they have set CARES on a firm footing and will leave behind a set of thoughtfully crafted bylaws to carry their legacy forward. Thanks to the Reviewing Reviewing (R2) committee – Natalie Enright Jerger, David Kaeli, Christos Kozyrakis, Gabe Loh, Tom Wenisch, and David Wood – who worked incredibly hard to understand the pressure points of our reviewing system and propose a blueprint for future solutions to the identified problems. And a special thanks to Lieven Eeckhout, the past TCCA chair – we broke new ground together in collaborations between SIGARCH and TCCA and I hope that becomes the steady state in the future.

As mentioned, hundreds of volunteers keep SIGARCH running – the many members of all the awards committees, the conference organization committees, communications committee, CARES committee, WICARCH officers, the student mentors, and many, many more. A big thanks to all of you! I would also like to acknowledge CRA and CCC – the blog, the visioning workshops, and the revamped structure of the EC were inspired by my observations of the activities of those organizations. The mentoring program was inspired by a program at the University of Chicago. Finally, thanks to all at ACM HQ who were always at hand to answer innumerable questions and provide guidance and support for all of our activities.

Passing the Torch

Although much has been accomplished, much remains to be done. We have shared our remaining “to-do” list with the new EC, including institutionalization of our best practices for our many programs and conferences, analysis and monitoring of our large conference portfolio, addressing issues with our reviewing system, determining how to best use our surplus to benefit the community, providing better support for conference GCs and other volunteers, revisiting our bylaws, preserving double blind reviewing in the age of arxiv, participating in open access, mitigating our contributions from conference travel to climate change, continuing our focus on diversity and inclusion, broadening CARES, increasing collaborations with our sister organizations in the architecture community, and more.

We have no doubt the new EC is up to these tasks and much more! And so we pass the torch and look forward to their leadership! Thank you again for the enormous honor of letting us serve our community.

About the authors: The authors served on the SIGARCH Executive Committee from November 2015 to June 2019. They are: Sarita Adve (Chair), Joel Emer, Babak Falsafi, Natalie Enright Jerger, Scott Mahlke, Parthasarathy Ranganathan, Karin Strauss, and David Wood. The featured photograph of the EC members was taken at the ISCA 2019 business meeting; unfortunately, it is missing Scott Mahlke who could not attend.

Disclaimer: These posts are written by individual contributors to share their thoughts on the Computer Architecture Today blog for the benefit of the community. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal, belong solely to the blog author and do not represent those of ACM SIGARCH or its parent organization, ACM.