I was out of the office most of last week, at Auckland University attending NZCSRSC '09. It's a conference dedicated to presenting the work of CS grad students from around New Zealand. I didn't really know what it would be like, but once I heard about it I thought it would be interesting to attend, to do some low-level recruiting/networking and to get a feel for the NZ CS research scene. Other than that I had pretty low expectations. I'm glad to report my expectations were exceeded!
I had lots of chances to talk to students, most of whom had no prior knowledge of our little Mozilla operation here.
The keynotes were actually quite good ... I've seen plenty of rubbish keynotes at top conferences (often where some extremely senior leader in the field talks about work that was interesting twenty years ago...), but at this conference Alan Blackwell and JP Lewis actually provided fresh insights, the former on collaboration across academic disciplines and the latter on collaboration between academia and industry. These are topics that get talked about a lot but too often without drawing on actual experiences, as Blackwell and Lewis were able to.
The student talks were a mixed bag, as one would expect. Veronica Liesaputra's talk on book models was one that stood out to me, probably because it's quite relevant to the design of future CSS features. Another good one was Susanne Tak's user studies of task switching interfaces (e.g. Windows' Alt-Tab) which are probably relevant to browser tab switching. A lot of the other talks seemed to be solving non-problems, or tackling problems of unreasonably large scope, or doing surveys without real synthesis, or coding stuff up with no real research agenda, or just addressing problems of little interest. A pretty good sample of most CS research...
I think I was the only "industry" person there who wasn't actually sponsoring the conference, which made me feel a little awkward at times, but then it doesn't take much to make me feel awkward. I was definitely glad I went though.