Computer Architecture Today

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

On behalf of the Women in Computer Architecture (WICARCH) organizing committee, I’m pleased to announce the launch of our new webpage and update you on some of our recent initiatives.  But first some history.

Female graduate students may often find themselves one of very few female students in their graduate program in computer architecture.  Setting aside the isolation and lack of role models for a moment, this situation creates some practical and logistical problems, such as how to find a roommate to offset the cost of conference travel?  This is precisely the problem Anne Bracy was trying to solve when she established the first women in computer architecture email listserv during her PhD studies at UPenn in the early 2000s. The listserv not only facilitated finding conference roommates but also established the now frequent conference meetups.  WICARCH regularly gathers at the start of the conference (Sunday evening or Monday morning) to socialize and establish a sense of community. These meetups are intended to reduce anxiety that new members of the community may have when facing a seemingly intimidating group of senior researchers for the first time. I attended my first such meetup at ISCA 2005 in Madison.  I was inspired to connect with such a large group of women (15-20 women attended). This humble little listserv chugged along in various forms for close to 15 years; Anne handed over management of the list to me in 2008. Anne’s simple idea filled a significant need – the need to connect women in computer architecture. Yet in 2017, we started to ask ourselves if it could be more than a simple email list.

We took inspiration from N2Women — a larger and more well-organized community of women in the field of networking.  At ISCA 2017, I put out a call for volunteers to form a new organizing committee to envision what WICARCH might be.  WICARCH is fundamentally about community. Connecting female researchers for networking and mentoring and celebrating our successes both large and small.  To fight back against the isolation many of us may feel that stems from being the only woman in our research group, in our org chart, or in our department.  To have a space where we don’t feel like an “other” or on the outside. To create a sisterhood by which we can encourage each other and hopefully grow our numbers.

Now, almost 12 months later I’m pleased to report on a number of initiatives that we have launched:

New website

We just launched our new website: www.sigarch.org/wicarch!  This is our public face to the world.  We focused on a few key features in launching the website and will continue to grow its content and its reach.

  • Leading off the website, is our new Profiles feature edited by Lisa Hsu.  On a regular basis, we will profile the career and achievements of various women in computer architecture.  According to Lisa, “The hope is these profiles will be fun and interesting to readers, provide career visibility for the profiles, and be a source of ‘existence proofs’ for up-and-coming women in computer architecture.”
  • The second notable feature is our WICARCH directory.  Tired of hearing the excuse, “I couldn’t think of any women to serve in prestigious role x?” The directory is designed to serve as a resource for general chairs, program chairs and leaders in the community to find women to serve on panels, give keynotes, serve on program committees, etc. It can be a resource to identify promising intern candidates.  It can be used to inspire undergraduate and graduate students that they are not alone in their research pursuits. Any women at any career stage in architecture (or a related field) can opt to list themselves in the directory. The directory is a growing resource and we hope women will take 5 minutes to fill in their information.
  • The website also highlights other initiatives including our conference meetups, administration of the SIGARCH and TCCA child care assistance travel grants and future activities.  Finally, it provides information on how to join our mailing list and slack mentoring forum.
Slack mentoring program 

In January, we launched a mentoring forum using Slack.  We currently have over 80 participants ranging from undergraduates to senior members of the academic and industry community.  The Slack mentoring program engages our members in a variety of ways: weekly discussion topics, a good news channel to celebrate our achievements both large and small, job postings and a monthly AMA with an established researcher.  For me, the mentoring platform has been one of the most exciting developments. It grew out of brainstorming from the organizing committee, is managed by a postdoc, Akanksha Jain, and is just a fabulous source of community and support.  Even as an established woman in the field with my own set of mentors and support system, I am routinely encouraged and inspired by the advice and discussions taking place. It is that sisterhood that has been missing.

Social media

We have a Facebook and Twitter presence.  Our Facebook posts and tweets primarily serve to highlight and celebrate the recent and historic contributions of women to the field of computer architecture.  All members of the community, male and female are welcome to follow us and enjoy the papers and articles we share. In addition to raising the profile of women in computer architecture through social media, we are actively promoting women for awards and career recognitions.  Lead by Kelly Shaw, we have been encouraging our members to be recognized with elevated IEEE and ACM statuses.

Email list

We migrated the email list from google groups to an ACM listserv. Perhaps one of our more mundane efforts but significant nonetheless.  A challenge with the previous listserv was getting new subscribers – how to connect with women new to the field, women who are perhaps in the most need of finding community?  Now female members of SIGARCH and SIGMICRO are automatically subscribed to our mailing list when they join these SIGs. This does not fully solve the problem; many graduate students do not join a SIG until their first conference.  As a result, we are still likely missing many first and second year graduate students. I call on the community to encourage their new students to join a SIG. The cost is minimal and the benefits are great! Our mailing list currently features 130 subscribers.

SIGARCH subcommittee

WICARCH is now an official subcommittee of SIGARCH.  We now officially help support SIGARCH’s diversity and inclusion agenda.  SIGARCH provides budget and support for our activities, most notably in the form our new website made possible through the efforts of SIGARCH’s communications committee lead by Babak Falsafi.  We are grateful to the SIGARCH Executive Committee for their continued support.

In the last 12 months, there have been many notable conversations about diversity in the architecture community (including Natalie Enright Jerger  and Kim Hazelwood’s diversity post, Margaret Martonosi’s diversity statement, SIGARCH’s commitment to diversity, Kathryn McKinley’s posts on governance and harassment and SIGARCH/SIGMICRO CARES). We are motivated by tremendous efforts we see from SIGARCH and SIGMICRO to take positive steps.  And we are grateful for a diverse group of allies that are participating in these conversations and supporting our efforts. We hope you are part of this growing community that celebrates and supports women in computer architecture.  If not, we hope you will be inspired to join us.

Do you see a gap in our efforts or a way you can contribute to the above activities? Reach out to wicarch-chair@acm.org to get involved.  We welcome new volunteers to our organizing committee.

Natalie Enright Jerger (on behalf of the WICARCH Organizing Committee:  Iris Bahar, Reetuparna Das, Yasuko Eckert, Lisa Hsu, Akanksha Jain, Tali Moreshet, Sophia Shao, Kelly Shaw, Jun Yang).

About the Author: Natalie Enright Jerger is the Percy Edward Hart Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto; she currently serves as WICARCH chair and as a member of the SIGARCH, SIGMICRO, TCCA Executive Committees.