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An Interesting Year

Michael R. Williams, IEEE Computer Society 2007 President

Pages: pp. 6-7

Abstract—The Society's 2007 president reflects on a year of challenges and accomplishments.

There is an old phrase that says, "May you live in interesting times." This saying is often interpreted as a curse because "interesting" can imply a wide variety of situations. I can confidently say that 2007 has been "interesting" in almost every sense of the word.

A New Executive Director

One major event this year was the search for a new executive director of the Computer Society. The search was open, in the sense that there was no obvious candidate. Many extremely well-qualified individuals applied, and reducing the list to manageable proportions was a difficult task for the search committee. The candidates represented diverse areas, including academic, industrial, and nonprofit institutions.

Although I have been involved in searching for senior leadership and administrative people in the past, I have seldom seen a more impressive list of individuals than those we chose to interview. After several interviews, we finally met over a holiday weekend to spend both formal and informal time with the top three candidates. They each brought a different set of strengths to the position and each would have made a fine executive director.

After much debate, we chose Angela Burgess for the job, and she assumed her duties shortly thereafter. Those of you who have met Angela will, I am sure, think that the search committee did a great job in arriving at this decision. I am confident that this will be a major step forward in the Society's history, and Angela's abilities will be welcomed for many years to come.

A Building Crisis

With every good "interesting" development, there is often a counterpart. One of the worst this year was the result of trying to be good citizens within the IEEE.

Our staff reorganization (about which, more later) left us with some excess space in our Washington, DC, headquarters building. The building is well over 100 years old and is a heritage-listed structure in the middle of Embassy Row in DC. Another IEEE organization was headquartered in Washington, and it seemed to make eminent sense to agree to a proposal that we share office space in our building.

Since this would require some renovations, we called in engineers and architects to advise us—no sense trying to remove a support wall or something equally devastating. When the reports came back, we were surprised to learn that the building infrastructure—electricity, plumbing, heating, and so on—not only could not accommodate the proposed renovations, but was outdated enough to pose potential safety risks. We immediately moved our staff out until we could determine the best course of action to remedy the problems.

As I write this message, a second group of engineers is studying the situation, so I can't give you any definite word on the final outcome. While we would all like instant answers in such situations, doing the job properly takes time. I hope that we can have definitive plans and cost estimates in hand by the time you actually read this.

I would like to thank our sister IEEE organization, IEEE-USA, for providing us emergency office accommodations until we sort out this mess. They've been extremely helpful and, despite this disruption to their own office functions, have been more than welcoming to our employees.

Reorganizing the Society

My presidential message at the start of 2007 indicated that this would be a year of decision regarding our organization. I am pleased to say that much of the staff and volunteer reorganization has begun, and I am sure this will result in a more effective organization in the future. Like any major change, the complete plan for reorganizing our Society will take time and will likely be an ongoing effort for several years. Angela Burgess, our new executive director, has been instrumental in implementing the myriad details of such things as rewriting position descriptions and recruiting staff to fill the new vacancies.

It is not only the staff that is being reorganized, but also the volunteer side of the organization. While it might be simple to say that combining the Technical Activities Board and the Conferences and Tutorials Board will result in greater synergy in both areas, it is something else to actually plan for a smooth transition, rewrite the governing bylaws, establish new modes of working, and try to foresee potential pitfalls. I would like to express my personal thanks to all the many volunteers who have helped in this and similar endeavors. The list is long, and I will not try to name them all. Of course, such dedicated effort also will be required in 2008 to accomplish the next steps in the plan.

All this reorganization effort is necessary for both budget and efficiency reasons. However, it is disruptive and we must not lose sight of the reasons this Society exists in the first place. We have so far managed to keep a good perspective on the situation and not only have kept up such things as our benefits to members but have actually increased them in some areas. For example, in 2008, student members will have a particularly attractive benefit of being able to access free software from Microsoft.

I have always tried to remember that making changes is but a step toward providing better services to our constituents. However, common wisdom—particularly that saying about when you're up to your waist in alligators, it isn't easy to remember that the objective was to drain the swamp—rings true.

An End and a Beginning

As my term as president comes to an end, I look back on this as truly being an "interesting" year. The three items I have touched on in this message are but a fraction of the events and situations that have kept me busy. In my January message in Computer, I said, "I hope that, at the end of this year, we can look back and not only conclude that I did my best but that it was to the benefit of the Society and IEEE as a whole." I can say that I have done my best, but I will leave it to others to make the rest of that judgment.

On 1 January 2008, Ranga Kasturi will take over from me as president, and Susan (Kathy) Land will be the president-elect. Kasturi (as he is usually known) is one of the most thoughtful and capable individuals I have ever met. He will certainly be a president who will take the Society forward to even greater accomplishments. Kathy is also an accomplished and dedicated volunteer, and the two of them will make a good team. I have every confidence that I leave the Society in the best possible hands for 2008 and beyond.


With a Society as large as ours, the personal experiences of our members span the complete spectrum. I have heard from some of you who have gone on to great success in 2007, from others who suffered the ravages of earthquakes and hurricanes, and others who have had less extreme experiences. Whatever your experiences in 2007, I want to wish you the very best possible 2008.

It has been my honor to serve as your president in this "interesting" year, and I thank you for the opportunity. I would also be remiss if I did not thank all the dedicated volunteers and staff that made it possible to actually accomplish all that we did in 2007.

About the Authors

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Michael R. Williams, a professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Calgary, is a historian specializing in the history of computing technology. Contact him at
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