The IEEE Computer Society (IEEE-CS) is witnessing a tremendous change to which it must adapt if it's to maintain its high relevance to the engineering profession. More specifically, the computer industry is undergoing a transformation unlike anything seen in the past 20 years. Cloud computing and social networking, powered by multicore, nonvolatile memory, and photonics are profoundly changing the nature of computing products and services. Computing skills are no longer limited to a few select people: elementary school students today have more computational power, connectivity, and IT skills than many professionals did 20 years ago. The IEEE-CS is ideally positioned to embrace this change and lead the transformation.
I've been on the board of governors for the IEEE-CS, and I helped write its new strategic plan. 1
I also gained insights during the past four years as the editor in chief of IEEE Computing Now
— a front end to IEEE-CS publications ( http://computingnow.computer.org) — and more recently by driving the formation of the IEEE-CS's Special Technical Communities (STCs). 2
Based on this experience, I'd like to share my personal views of the society's future.
The IEEE-CS addresses six main areas, all of which are equally affected by technology's rapid changes.
The first is publications. Today's printed publications are being complemented or even replaced by online publications that evolve in style. Blogs, comments, and tweets are competing with traditional magazine and journal articles. One major challenge for the IEEE-CS is retaining the quality of its traditional articles (with their rigorous reviewing processes) while riding the wave of new technologies, where instantaneous feedback is valued — think of FaceBook "likes," blog comments, and retweets. The society must sustain the cost of high-quality publications (even online magazines require production by staff) while including new publication formats (blogs, groups, and so on) and delivery models (such as tablets and smart phones). This is similar to how Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have created business models with free membership, while relying on financial models based on advertisements, recruiters, and so on. At the same time, the community expects open access to all content.
The next area is professional activities. IEEE stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; the IEEE-CS further narrows these fields to computing technology. Most recently, our profession has extended to include information technologists (IT). Are IT professionals engineers? Is the IEEE-CS the right forum for them, and vice versa? I think the answer is an adamant "yes" to the second question, but do we need to make the accommodation in the IEEE name to embrace IT? Furthermore, within the IT profession, there is an emergence of IT "DevOps" — developers converging with operations. So, our profession continuously changes, and the IEEE-CS must keep up with these changes and maintain its contribution to its existing and new members. Bodies of knowledge, webinars, and courses are traditional ways of delivering value to professionals, but we must introduce new models using better collaborative tools.
The third area is technical activities and conferences
. Technical committees have proven useful to the IEEE-CS, but it takes some time to start a new committee and even more time to relinquish it. Several new technology areas require quick formation of communities, possibly hundreds of them. We adopted this approach with the STCs. 2
Similarly, workshops, symposia, and conferences are becoming much more ad hoc, requiring less oversight and financial support from a governing organization. I've organized and participated in events without registration fees, and with no money exchanged between organizers and attendees. For example, in several Open Cirrus summits, 3
hosting organizations around the world sponsored the events. Can we adopt a similar model for large conferences without compromising the IEEE-CS's financial sustainability?
The fourth area is educational activities. With the ever-increasing pace of technological evolution, educational activities must also be more agile. Quality textbooks are hard to write quickly, but courses can be prepared in a more agile fashion. The new generation of computer users learns to program and develop at a much younger age. The IEEE-CS must explore how it can meet the educational needs of this potentially new class of membership.
The next area is standards. New technologies are emerging very quickly, introducing de facto standards. For example, Eucalyptus, Open Stack, OpenNebula, and various other vendors and open source implementations have adopted Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) interfaces. IEEE standardization bodies are attempting to standardize interoperability between clouds. Recognizing the right need and optimal time for standardization is more necessary than ever. If standards are created too early, they might never be adopted; too late, and de facto standards are adopted instead. Most of all, standards must be created at the same pace that technology evolves, a challenging task.
The final area is membership and geographic activities. The Internet, the World Wide Web, and most recently cloud computing are bringing the world and computation more closely together. Membership and geographical regions are better served as members are closer to each other than they have ever been. Quality video conferencing is a growing commodity. Guest speakers can present talks from any area of the world to any other region.
During past year, the IEEE-CS came up with a strategic plan 1
— consisting of the following five strategic goals — that in many ways addresses the activities I've discussed so far:
• Future technologies. The IEEE-CS will take a leadership role within the IEEE on new computing technologies, including those that engage multiple societies. These technologies include the smart grid, cloud computing, life sciences, multicore technology, and machine learning. The first three of these areas represent current IEEE initiatives.
• Knowledge creation. The IEEE-CS will develop and revitalize its products and services to create, validate, categorize, and deliver technical information. It should produce products and services targeted to all elements of society membership: academics, researchers, practitioners, and students.
• Education and professional development. Global computing professionals and their employers will value the IEEE-CS for its education, professional development, and standards for professional practice, which will help develop a global workforce that's competent to perform at the level of best practices.
• Outreach and engagement. The IEEE-CS will reach out and engage with underserved academic organizations, industry sectors, and nontraditional computing professionals to offer personalized and tailored products and services from the broad spectrum of society's products and services.
• STCs. Because technical knowledge is supported and sustained by technical communities, the IEEE-CS will create and encourage flexible communities that develop technical knowledge as well as products and services from this knowledge. These communities, whether demographically or technically oriented, should utilize social networking best practices and technologies.
Past IEEE-CS president Sorel Riesman has discussed the need for the convergence of organizations such as ACM, IEEE-CS, Usenix, and others. 4
Only one community of engineers exists, and all these organizations serve that one community. Personally, I've been a member of ACM, IEEE-CS, and Usenix for more than 20 years. My needs are simple — I want to read and publish papers, work with communities of like-minded people on the same problems in our profession, standardize those technologies that require standardization, teach, and learn. However, I need this at a pace that keeps up with the most recent technologies and uses contemporary collaborative tools. We must change to remain highly relevant.
The most recent changes in the IEEE-CS and the new strategic plan leave me optimistic that the society will remain successful for a long time to come. Personally, I plan to work on three areas:
• better aligning the IEEE-CS with technology evolution by continuing to modernize publications, standards, events, and technical communities;
• continuing to strengthen global membership through improved educational, professional, and personal services, and by driving community-based development and leveraging long tail; and
• evolving technical communities by using IEEE-CS tools (digital library, webinars, bodies of knowledge, and so on), and by collaborating with IEEE sister societies and other societies.
Can you help with any of these?
Dejan S. Milojiĉić
is a senior research manager and researcher at Hewlett-Packard Labs. His research interests include distributed systems, cloud computing, service management, and systems software. Milojiĉić has a PhD in computer science (distributed systems) from Kaiserslautern University. He's an IEEE Fellow, editor in chief of IEEE Computing Now
, and a member of the IEEE Computer Society board of governors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.