to be objective in deciding whether an
approach may not be yielding results.
Time and money are closely related
and difficult to manage because breakthroughs are impossible to schedule,
but competition for resources brings
the estimates of other experts to bear
on the questions of what results can
be expected, how long it will take, and
how much it will cost.
Therefore, in addition to vision
and new ideas, effective program
managers will bring deep expertise
and credibility in their scientific discipline to their role in government.
Depth is necessary to understand the
real risks in a problem domain, to
select the most promising researchers and plans, and to distinguish true
technical innovation from rhetorical skill. Deep expertise and credibility require that program managers be
drawn from the scientific community,
while public service entails standing
somewhat apart from the community, for fairness and to prevent real
or perceived conflicts of interest. The
perspective of a public servant drawn
from the scientific community can be
both challenging (since it requires a
view at “field” level or even “national”
level, rather than “specialty” level),
and a tremendous opportunity for
community and personal growth.
What Do You Get out of it?
One unfortunate, destructive, and
derogatory myth about program management is that it is a purely administrative job, giving management briefings, rating proposals, and dunning
people for annual reports. It is not.
There are huge technical, professional, and personal rewards.
On the technical front, you are
exposed to real problems, new technologies, and alternative solutions
that you might never have imagined
without the experience. A sample
suggestion I got when I was looking
for applications for my approaches
to extreme networking environments was “read Black Hawk Down,”
which focused my attention on wireless communications and the prob-lem-rich urban communications
environment, leading to, for example, efforts in cognitive networking
(SAPIENT, for Situation-Aware Protocols in Edge Network Technolo-
of a public servant
be both challenging
and a tremendous
gies4) and distributed radio (ACERT,
for Adaptive Cognition-Enhanced
Radio Teams1, 5). The broad exposure
to other problems (for example, the
traditional sciences, engineering
disciplines such as aerospace, and
emerging areas such as programmable matter) allows you to inject
computer science thinking where it
is necessary and shape new opportunities for advanced research.
The professional rewards accrue
from doing a great job in public—you
are never more visible than when you
are in Washington, D.C., and your impact may persist for many years as a
result of the programs you create and
the people and teams you support. It is
no surprise that your peers take notice
and give credit where it is due. Further,
the new skills you have gained catapult
you into a new realm of mentoring and
advisory roles, since they have direct
bearing on the ability of any group to
accomplish an agenda.
On the personal front, your service
is the chance to set an agenda based
on your new ideas, and support intellectual leadership for this agenda with
significant resources. As an example,
program managers at DARPA are hired
based on their vision for change. Subtle changes can have surprising impact, for example, encouraging open
source deliverables to stimulate software radio research.
1, 5 As an added
benefit, you have access to a new form
of publication, the research solicitation, which will be read far more close-
ly by proposers from your community
than any conference or archival writing you do before or after your service.
The solicitation itself can serve as an
important tool in sparking new ways
to approach problems.
Do You have to Give up Your Job?
Opportunities exist for academic researchers to perform public service
while retaining their institutional affiliations, which of course demands
extra care to avoid conflicts of interest.
This can be accomplished, for example, under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which allows an agency to
“borrow” staff members from the academic institution. Conflicts of interest, for example, would arise when the
home institution is involved in a solicitation, and you must remove yourself from the decision-making path.
Scholarly activities such as mentoring
students that are near graduation can
continue, albeit on a voluntary rather
than a compensated basis.
Research really is an endless frontier,
3 and the impact of our “
general-purpose machines” on life and society
has only just begun. I encourage you
to consider public service as a way to
keep the frontier spirit alive in the
computer science community.
1. Lau, r. et al. Cognitive adaptive radio teams. in
Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on
Wireless Adhoc and Sensor Networks, (i WWan
2006) (new york, ny, 2006).
2. Lazowska, e.D. and Patterson, D.a. an endless
frontier postponed. Science 308, 5723 (May 6, 2005).
3. Science: The Endless Frontier. a report to the
President by Vannevar bush, Director of the office
of Scientific research and Development, July 1945;
4. Smith, J.M. Cognitive techniques—three types of
network awareness. in b. fette, Cognitive Radio
Technology, 2nd ed., 2009.
5. troxel, g.D. et al. adaptive dynamic radio open-source intelligent team (aDroit): Cognitively-controlled collaboration among SDr nodes.
in Proceedings of the First IEEE Workshop on
Networking Technologies for Software Defined
Radio (SDR) Networks (reston, Va, Sept. 25, 2006)
(held in conjunction with ieee SeCon 2006: third
annual ieee Communications Society Conference
on Sensor, Mesh and ad-hoc Communications and
networks; invited paper).
Jonathan M. Smith ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor
of computer and information science at the University of
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. he was awarded the office
of the Secretary of Defense Medal for exceptional Public
Service in august 2006.
i wish to thank ed Lazowska, Craig Partridge, and an
anonymous reviewer for their wise suggestions.