People of ACM - Bobby Schnabel

March 3, 2015

Robert (Bobby) Schnabel chairs ACM's Education Policy Committee and is an ACM Fellow. He is co-founder and a member of the executive team of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), and is active in a number of committees and boards regarding computing education and research and minority-serving institutions.

A recipient of numerous teaching and professional awards, Schnabel is Professor of Computer Science and Informatics, and Dean of the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. Previously, he was Vice Provost/Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic and Campus Technology and Professor of Computer Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

His research and teaching interests include numerical computation, parallel computation, applications to molecular chemistry, and diversifying participation in computing and information technology, both in education and in workforce development.

Schnabel earned his Doctorate and Master's degrees in Computer Science from Cornell University and his undergraduate degree in Mathematics from Dartmouth College.

How much progress has been made since the release of ACM's 2010 report " Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach K-12 Computer Science in the Digital Age" in exposing all K-12 students to computer science and filling the pipeline of qualified students?

The community has made a lot of progress in awareness and capability, but we're not there yet. U.S. federal and state policymakers are much more aware of the importance of K-12 computer science education-the CS Education Act has over 100 sponsors in the House of Representatives and 25 states have passed legislation that assures that a rigorous computer science course counts towards graduation.

Computer Science Education Week was started by ACM and has become a major annual international event, coupled with the Hour of Code run by which is nearing 100 million K-12 participants worldwide. The College Board has approved the new CS Principles advanced placement course to begin in 2016, which will make AP CS appealing to a broad range of students, and the Exploring Computer Science course has been adopted in a number of large school districts. In conjunction, is actively ramping up programs to train high school teachers to teach both of these high school courses and is introducing computer science curriculum for lower levels.

Student participation still needs to build up but the foundation that was lacking at the time of the Rebooting report is getting into much better shape, and the 2014 ACM report, " Rebooting the Pathway to Success: Preparing Students for Computing Workforce Needs in the U.S." has reinforced the importance of this issue. At the same time, a number of other nations have made even greater progress.

How does the presence of women and other underrepresented groups in the computing field strengthen the organizations and institutions that employ them?

Our society increasingly understands that diverse teams produce better ideas and results. Premises like this are difficult to prove scientifically (there are few controlled experiments!), but studies are beginning to provide evidence that supports our common sense, such as the superior results from patents created by diverse teams. Diverse teams—by gender, ethnicity, nationality and many other dimensions—not only bring better awareness of the interests and needs of groups that constitute our population and markets, but differences of all kind also lead to creative tension that ultimately leads to broader scrutiny of issues, greater creativity, and better outcomes. Beyond this, I think most of us find that diversity makes work and life more fun, which in turn makes us more productive. And, in a field always looking for employees, we need to draw from of our entire population. It's a total win.

How do you see the ever-broadening scope of computing and information technology impacting education and research in this field?

The boundaries of what we consider computing education and research keep expanding. Topics in areas as diverse as biology, healthcare, media, art and design—just to name a few—now fall at least partially in computing and IT, and new technologies are constantly changing our landscape.

This expanding breadth brings tremendous excitement and vitality to our field. New research areas arise at an amazing pace—the list of areas like mobile computing, cloud computing, bioinformatics and so many more that didn't exist when the senior and even mid-career members of our community went to school is mind-boggling—and our research groups, conferences and publications must evolve at a pace that the research world in general is not accustomed to.

Undergraduate and graduate programs also must rapidly embrace these new topics, and new degree programs in areas such as data science are coming into existence. Many computing professionals need to be as adept at some area of application of computing, and/or at interfacing with the users of computing technology and products, as they are at computing and IT fundamentals; on the Bloomington campus of my own university, the informatics major (an applied computing major) has become the third largest on campus and it's still growing rapidly. A big challenge for our entire community is the same one that large IT companies face—adapting quickly enough—but that is an exciting and good problem to have.

As a leader and visionary in the informatics and computing community, what advice would you give to young people considering careers in computing?

Do it—and define your own path! The breadth referred to above means that people who have interests in so many different areas ranging from art and media to business to science and beyond, and who also have technical inclinations, can find a wonderful place to pursue their interests in the computing and IT field. And of course there remains huge need and room for people who are in love with computing technology.

Once you have an education, you can choose from so many options: tech companies, companies in any sector including healthcare, finance, commerce, retail and so many more, non-profits, tiny local operations or multinationals, and perhaps the best: build your own company and world by becoming an entrepreneur. Finally and most importantly, be prepared to constantly learn, grow and change—you'll be part of the fastest-evolving field and career there is, which offers great rewards and the ongoing excitement and challenge of learning new things.