Future Programming Workshop 2014 report

This is to report our reflections on the FPW 2014 SPLASH and StrangeLoop events and thoughts about the future.


We had 120 attendees, with tickets selling out the first day. We only had 7 talks, so the schedule was quite relaxed, with 10 or 15 minute breaks throughout. Many people enjoyed having that time to think or stretch or catch up on email. The audience was generally receptive and showed some enthusiasm for a couple of the talks, especially those with more developed ideas that were ready to use.


Everyone was enthusiastic about the writers’ workshop experience. It was more intense and engaging than a typical conference experience. Everyone felt they got valuable feedback on their own work. Discussing other people’s work was also suprisingly interesting, even for work that did not appeal to us. We should definitely continue to use the workshop process.

We banned outside observers because they can dilute the experience of a writers’ workshop. However there was a fair amount of interest and we had to turn a number of people away. Perhaps we could run a two-day workshop in which the first day was open to the public and the second was the private writers’ workshop.


The most experimental aspect of the workshop was the use of screencast videos. The results were mixed. Videos made it easy to present ideas informally and to show dynamic interactions that are hard to capture in writing. But we discovered that making high quality videos is hard. Sound quality is a problem. Scripting and revising a video is a lot of work. Watching videos was also harder than expected. It is hard to browse a video, and one cannot easily pause and replay a tricky point. There are no margins for writing comments.

More significantly the video format repelled a number of potential contributors. Some people were scared off because they had never done videos before. Others felt that they would get no academic credit for a video as opposed to a paper. Some people need to publish archivally, for example in the ACM DL.

We discussed moving to mixed-media documents ranging from traditional papers to hybrids of text, screenshots, and embedded video clips such as Bret Victor’s Learnable Programming.


Some people felt that the topic “Future Programming” was vague and invited wild speculation. In the future a more well-defined and sober topic might be better. We discussed “Programming Experience Design” or PXD for short. This would cover proposals to improve the total experience of learning and doing programming. This topic is still broad and interdisciplinary, including PL, UI, and SE work and especially combinations thereof. We would expect an argument or demonstration of how such proposals improve the overall experience of programming. The reason for calling it Design is that we want to critique ideas and tradeoffs qualitatively, rather than using empirical evaluation, mathematical proofs, or implementation case studies. These latter methodologies are already well served by established venues.


The most valuable part of the experience was the writers’ workshop process itself. It offered a level of engagement and feedback that we rarely experience in traditional conference and workshop settings. We would like to encourage more use of writers’ workshops in computer science research. Continuing and refocusing FPW is a good way to do that.

Finally, thanks to everyone for their participation and interest -
Jonathan Edwards, Richard Gabriel, Alex Payne