Featured Eminent Speaker of ACM India: Sridhar Chimalakonda

The ACM India Eminent Speaker Program (ESP) provides ACM Student and Professional chapters and institutional partners in India with direct access to top technology leaders, innovators and researchers who will give talks on contemporary and engaging issues that are important to the computing community. Chapters can invite ESP speakers to give talks as part of events that they hold. ACM India will help cover the costs for travel while the local chapter will arrange accommodation and local logistics. While most of the talks should be in-person to encourage interactions, some of the talks may be done virtually. For more details, see the ACM India ESP Page

Sridhar Chimalakonda is an Associate Professor (CSE) in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at IIT Tirupati and drives the RISHA Lab (https://rishalab.in) towards pushing the boundaries of software engineering research from India. The lab’s research has led to consistent publications in top-quality conferences (e.g., ICSE, FSE, ASE; 13 undergrad-led) and 20+ open-source tools, grants & awards from industry (e.g., Google, Microsoft, IBM, Accenture Labs). His doctoral work at IIIT-H on software automation for adult literacy was transferred to the Government of India, and led to 10+ international standards (ISO) on software reuse. He also volunteers for ACM SIGSOFT (Software Engineering), ACM iSIGCSE (Computer Science Education). He is passionate about addressing societal challenges through computing research. During Covid-19, he steered the development of an innovative game, SurviveCovid-19, for Covid19 awareness and the Mood of India portal to gauge the mood of people during Covid19 through Twitter analysis. He believes that teaching should inspire students beyond grades and jobs, and further instill the foundations for life and help push boundaries!

When and how did you become interested in software engineering and educational technologies?

I dreamt and experimented with the idea of "software for rent", and a browser-based operating system way back in 2002 when there was only one internet connection in our village. Forget software engineering, there was a distinct lack of computing other than algorithms, and no one even knew about research in our rural town. However, as a crazy student, I strongly imagined that software can have a significant impact on society and our lives. My inclination towards the unconventional, and topics that seem to fail led me to software engineering. Today, I ask people to share examples of life without software!!!

How can we provide personalized education to 7 billion learners across the globe? This is something I have thought about since I was in school as every student is different, and requires both customization and personalization. For instance, when I was a student, I loved to learn mostly outside the textbook, but the education system isn’t designed that way! During my PhD, we developed a software product line that can generate eLearning Systems for adult literacy in India (22 languages, varied instructional design, content, evaluation) in two person-weeks from the previous best of five person-years. We transferred the work to the National Literacy Mission of Government of India and Government of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Can we do this for all subjects and students? This requires novel and innovative educational technologies (e.g., AR, VR, games).

What is a key challenge and an important opportunity for those working in software engineering for AI today?

To me, the computing community is in a golden era that is both exciting and challenging. Software today is everywhere, and AI-based software assistants are a reality. Code for an entire web application can be generated, and even bugs can be fixed automatically! On the flip side, existing tools ranging from GitHub Copilot to generic ChatGPT face significant challenges such as lack of explainability, unreliability and being resource intensive. These go beyond the standard AI challenges of fairness, bias and other things. So the question is: How can we design software and do research that does not harm society?

What is an emerging area of research in the field of software engineering that will have a significant impact in the coming years?

As the society extensively relies on AI-based and AI-assisted software systems, I see two key research questions that are critical. Can we design human-centered, ethical and responsible software (AI) systems? and How to make software systems (both AI and non-AI) sustainable? In my view, software engineering research has the potential to become a major thrust area, and much bigger than AI today!

In your experience, what are some effective ways to impart strong foundations for computing education to students?

To me, computing goes way beyond programming. With emerging and recent advances, the notion of computing itself is evolving rapidly! There is a definite need to explore active learning mechanisms, games, AR/VR and other modes to figure out innovative ways for computing. For instance, we developed a game called MLQuest to teach machine learning to high school students, but without introducing any ML terminology. One effective way I see is to make students apply computing concepts to other domains and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which is what I do in my courses at IIT Tirupati. In addition, I see a strong need to make policy changes through AICTE and the Ministry of Education to bring computing education to the forefront, and to keep India on par with global advances in computing across countries.

What excites you about the topic you will be talking about as part of the ESP program?

From the beginning, I have been inclined towards unconventional, imprecise, uncertain problems and solutions. Here comes software engineering, an underrated topic in computing despite software being everywhere around us! My goal through the ESP talks is to bring awareness to students on this exciting but underexplored topic, especially at the crossroads of AI and software engineering. In addition, I am amused to see that several of the computing challenges that we have today were envisioned by Turing award winners decades back, and there is no discussion on that today. So, I aim to delve into the key inventions and innovations of software engineering and computing over the past 50 years and provide both a short-term and long-term perspective for students.

Personally, I strongly believe that our students from India can do top-quality computing research in India. I enjoy discussing with students on a range of topics (e.g. technical, career, movies, society) and connect them back to computing research. Despite being notoriously (in)famous for rigorous work and fun, I usually have around 15 undergraduate students working with me in my lab (Research in Intelligent Software & Human Analytics (RISHA) Lab - https://rishalab.in/ at IIT Tirupati. I use this base and leverage the ESP program to motivate and inspire the students to get excited on doing computing research, and cite our lab’s journey as an example!

If your ACM Chapter would like to inviteSridhar Chimalakonda to give a talk on any of these or relevant topics, please follow the guidelines for inviting an ESP Speaker available here.

  • What Is Software Engineering Anyway? Reflections on 5+ Decades of Software
    Engineering and the Road Ahead!
  • @TheCrossroads of AI for SE and SE for AI—What's Happening and Where Are We Going?
  • The Lasting Contributions of Computing—Past, Present and Future


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