Posted by Rob Knies

 Kevin Schofield

For more than half his life, Kevin Schofield of Microsoft Research has been an active participant in the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction (SIGCHI). He’s a champion of the group’s research, and his contributions underscore the importance he places on volunteer work.

In mid-February, though, he received a bit of unexpected SIGCHI news.

“I got an email out of the blue,” he explains, “saying: ‘Congratulations! The SIGCHI awards committee has met and has decided to award you the SIGCHI Lifetime Service Award.’

“I was very humbled. Wow!”

The surprise is understandable. For one thing, Schofield is just 45.

“Yeah,” he chuckles, “it’s a little strange, getting a lifetime-service award at that age.”

But, when you examine the record, it’s not that strange at all.

It was in 1989, not long after graduating from Dartmouth College and joining Microsoft, that Schofield was introduced to SIGCHI and, by extension, its premier conference, the annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI).

That was the start of a long, fruitful involvement. In the years since, Schofield has assisted with the organizing committee for CHI ’90, helped with business and operational support for subsequent conferences, served as co-chair of CHI ’96, participated on the conference management committee, been elected as SIGCHI vice chair, found himself thrust into the role of SIGCHI chair, and then performed for six years as immediate past chair.

It’s a dizzying résumé of service, and all this came in addition to his day job. In 1997, after nearly a decade of work in Microsoft product groups, he joined Microsoft Research, where he serves as general manager, driving technical strategy and business priorities and acting as a liaison with product groups, customers, press, and analysts.

“Volunteering is something that Microsoft Research places tremendous value on,” Schofield says. “We have hundreds of people who have a professional-service component to what they do, and I feel the same way. Somebody’s got to do that work.”

He became interested in user-interface design while in college, and that interest has continued throughout his career, leading to some memorable SIGCHI experiences.

“I was asked to co-chair the CHI ’96 conference in Vancouver with a wonderful gentleman named Michael Tauber from Austria,” Schofield says. “That was a really hard, very busy thing, to be one of two people steering the big CHI ship.”

The conference’s timing, too, presented challenges.

“The Internet was really coming into its own,” he notes. “Being able to get to an academic conference and have Internet access all day long—that was suddenly an important thing. It was a completely exhausting two years of my life, but it was great, and the conference was a huge success.”

In 2001, Marilyn Tremaine, one of the pioneers in the formation of SIGCHI, was running for chair of the group and asked Schofield to run with her as vice chair. They won, but professional circumstances induced Tremaine to resign, and Schofield thereby ascended to the chair role—just in time to address challenges stemming from the bursting of the dot-com bubble.

“We had to step back and decide how to do the right thing for the organization,” he recalls. “But we got through it, and we managed to keep continuity for the community.”

After his stint as past chair, Schofield found himself drawn to computer-science pipeline issues and joined the advisory board for the Computer Science Teachers Association, diminishing his SIGCHI involvement. But he retains his support for the organization and is delighted that Microsoft—and Microsoft Research—shares his enthusiasm.

“Microsoft publishes an enormous amount of work at CHI, both from the research organization as well as from the product groups,” he says. “One of the reasons why our work tends to get recognized so often there is because we tend to look at the interdisciplinary aspects of human-computer interaction.”

CHI ’12 will be held May 5-10 in Austin, Texas, and Schofield will be there to accept his award. For him and for SIGCHI, it figures to be an opportunity for an exchange of mutual respect, but he sees his recognition as simply a byproduct of the obligation to serve.

“I believe that professional service is incredibly important,” Schofield says. “Communities like SIGCHI don’t happen on their own. We all benefit from having professional communities. And if we benefit from them and we want them to be around, we have to invest our own time. We have to make it a personal priority.

“I decided that a long time ago, and I’m trying to live up to that ideal.”