David Alan Grier's article in Computer's July issue (In Our Time, "Across the Great Divide," pp. 8–10) and the publication's approaching 40th birthday inspired me to revisit the history of Computer's birth.
Back in the 1960s, the IEEE had no magazines. The Transactions were the only periodicals. They published mainly theoretical research results with a lot of mathematical analyses. They were only interesting to, and accessible by, a small minority of members and, importantly, a small number of potential members. The Transactions were research journals and had that appearance, with the name and a list of the papers in monochrome on the cover. The IEEE had no publication where the results of applied systems or component research or experience with new systems could be shared.
I was the Computer Group's publications chairman—we had no vice presidents or societies at that time; Dick Tanaka was the group's chairman, and Harry Huskey was the editor of Transactions on Computers. We decided to start a new publication, in addition to the Transactions, to fill the unmet need.
Huskey was in Los Angeles then, and he hired John Kirkley to be the first editor. Kirkley established the West Coast office to handle the publication.
We decided on several criteria for the new publication:
• The articles should be of interest to and readable by college graduates working in technical aspects of the computer field. No PhD required.
• Articles on applied research and experience with laboratory or operational systems would be welcome.
• The magazine would publish news about the Computer Group and the rapidly growing business and profession.
• Technical accuracy was an absolute requirement.
• The magazine would have an attractive cover. Each issue would have a different artist-designed cover, in color, evocative of the issue's theme or a major article.
Our start was shaky. I had to write the only article in several issues, since there were no contributions. However, contributions started to arrive, and we had a going publication.
Computer was a success. Other societies emulated our approach, and now all major IEEE societies have at least one magazine. Computer became the publication provided to all Computer Society members. It continues to serve the members well.
In "Can Indian Software Firms Compete with the Global Giants?" (July 2006, pp. 43–47), Prabhudev Konana states that "To become recognized global brands and move up the value chain, Indian software firms must promote knowledge leadership, create incentives to innovate, and foster efforts to enhance cultural alignment." The author focuses on concepts such as "knowledge leadership, concept leadership, and process leadership," but he overlooks the most important factor: how to retain talented engineers.
I disagree with the statement that "Unless the Indian educational system can produce a large number of high-quality new graduates to meet the demand for IT workers, there will be a gradual movement of work to other emerging countries." Scientific advancement is not a numbers game—in other words, it is not population-related. For example, the UK's technological foundation has had a strong performance record for centuries despite the fact that there are only about 100 universities, many of which now have a significant population of foreign students.
When I was a student in the UK, three classmates who received the highest marks were all foreign students, but none of their native countries is a technological super power.
Recently, more Asian students have been winning international programming contests, which may increase their competitive abilities in the future.
I believe constitution, culture, social environment, social stability, and funding are crucial factors for attracting talented software engineers and researchers from around the world to work in the US. Scientific researchers must be critical thinkers. Without that important "soil," their work is little more than copying instead of the creativity that makes a significant contribution to the computing industry.
Although some Asian software engineering researchers are accelerating their publication productivity, it is likely that many of these scientists will still choose to work where they can move their research into high gear and do it at will.
The author responds:
As I stated in the article (p. 46), India is facing challenges in retaining talent.
Although it appears that Mr. Li equates creating software professionals with scientific advancement, they are, of course, two quite different things. When Infosys or Wipro hires software professionals in the tens of thousands each year, they are not hiring scientists and pushing the frontiers of knowledge; they are hiring mostly undergraduate students.
This article is not about students from India or China being successful in the US or the UK or receiving awards in foreign institutions. It is about developing talent within these countries to meet their growing needs and what it takes to move up the value chain. If India does not produce a skilled workforce in large numbers, economic principles say wages will increase rapidly and firms will exploit cheaper talent elsewhere after adjusting for various risks.