People of ACM European Chapters - Reyyan Ayfer

August 1, 2017

Can you briefly describe your own line of research and how you became interested in this area?

One of the standard questions that grown-ups ask to kids has always been, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Starting from early childhood my answer has always been, “I want to be happy!” My choice for my area of study at university has been the subject that I loved most: Mathematics! When I was a junior, I discovered that what I really love is problem solving, and computers are great tools for that purpose. I selected most of my electives from CS and continued my studies for an MS degree in CS. I never got over with the feeling of being unfaithful to Maths. Upon receiving my MSc degree in computer engineering I worked for various organizations for more than a decade, and noting the increasing demand for expertise in programming, I decided to pursue a role in the field of education. In 1988 I began working at Bilkent University. Since then, computer science education has been the area that interested me. My second interest, “women in computing,” emerged when the percentage of female students at my department began to decrease noticeably in 2002, which has also been the reason for my volunteer work for ACM-W.

What are the most notable ways in which your field has changed in the past 5-10 years?

Although the change in computer science is very rapid, the progress in both computer science education and gender equality is rather slow. In addition to the changes in the field, the change in the interests and learning styles of the new generations needs to be considered by the educational institutions at all levels. It is a relief to see that computer science has regained its popularity and that enrollment in computer science-related departments is increasing. Also, it is very encouraging to see the growing efforts toward achieving gender equality at many organizations.

Can you tell us a little about the ACM-W Student Chapter at Bilkent University? How many members do you have? What are your most important activities?

After becoming an ACM-W Ambassador it took me two years, many meetings and pizza parties to explain the reason and importance of working for more participation of women in computing by establishing an ACM-W Student Chapter. Finally in 2004, the Bilkent ACM-W Student Chapter was founded as the first ACM-W chapter outside the US. The chapter activities included seminars, workshops, contests, and social activities. The number of activities and members varied according to how much time and effort chapter leaders devoted to promoting their chapter. The first ACWIC (Ankara Celebration of Women in Computing) was organized in March 2016. The 18 students, both male and female, did a great job of fundraising and organizing the event. I am very hopeful that the success of this first celebration will continue in the future.

What advice would you give to a younger colleague just starting out in the computing field?

Never underestimate yourself!
Be patient!
Love what you are doing!
Follow news about your field, attend conferences, enlarge your network!
Remember, you will change the world!

Reyyan Ayfer is working at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey with a multitude of responsibilities: Instructor, Vice Chair of Computer and Instructional Technology Teacher Education, Director of the Institutional History Unit and Coordinator of BETS Bilkent Educational Technology Services. Her research interests include programming, data structures, computer science education, information ethics and security.

Ayfer has held several leadership positions within ACM to improve computer science education and increase the representation of women in the field. She received the Anita Borg Change Agent Award in 2008 after serving as the ACM-W Ambassador of Turkey for eight years. For the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE), she has been a co-chair of SIGCSE’s 15th annual European conference Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE). For ACM’s Council on Women in Computing (ACM-W), Ayfer recently became the Vice Chair, and she was the founding Chair of ACM-W Europe. She is also the faculty advisor for the ACM-W and ACM student chapters at Bilkent University.