In my opinion, however, ACM will
not achieve its goal of supporting a
computing profession and its practitioners without a concerted effort to
bring practitioners into ACM leadership positions and give them more
professional recognitions. IEEE-CS
has been more successful with this
Individual members further their professional development by using the
services and support structures of ACM
and IEEE-CS, and by improving their
own personal practices in their professional relations with clients. I have
aimed the 64 The Profession of IT columns published since 2001 to support
the latter. These columns have examined various aspects of the profession
including the nature of the profession,
education for professionals, innovation, language-action, the Internet,
software, moods, jobs, and time management. You can find them on my
website.b Please contact me with your
questions or issues that I can address
in future columns.
Computing has come a long way in
the 70 years since its founders’ first inklings that computing would become
a pervasive professional concern. ACM
has developed an impressive array of
offers in publications, a digital library,
conferences, chapters, support for
professional education, support for
practitioners, and awards. Its biggest
challenge is integrating its academic-research and practitioner sectors. I expect significant progress on this challenge in the next decade.
1. Denning, P. J. Who are we? Commun. ACM 44, 2 (Feb.
2. Denning, P. J. and Frailey, D. J. Who are we—now?
Commun. ACM 54, 6 (June 2011), 25–27.
3. Ford, G. and Gibbs, N. A Mature Profession of
Software Engineering. Software Engineering Institute,
Carnegie-Mellon University (1996); http://www.sei.
Peter J. Denning ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is Distinguished
Professor of Computer Science and Director of the
Cebrowski Institute for information innovation at
the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, USA,
is Editor of ACM Ubiquity, and is a past president of ACM.
The author’s views expressed here are not necessarily
those of his employer or the U.S. federal government.
Copyright held by author.
tational sciences, such as computational physics, computational chemistry,
or computational biology, where professional groups were being organized
independent of ACM or IEEE. At the
time, computer scientists were not very
open to reaching out to other fields and
helping them meet their own needs in
computing. Over the years, ACM has
embraced this challenge and has become much better at reaching out to
other fields. ACM has settled into a role
as a “curator of the flame,” providing
the definitions, bodies of knowledge,
and standards of practice for computing wherever it appears.
One of the consequences of the
spread of computing into everyone’s
lives is that the public mood has been
shifting to the notion that essential
knowledge to support education and
advancement of the profession should
be free to the public. The ACM Digital
Library, which has been feeling the pressure of this mood for several years, now
supports open access to research papers
for which the authors have paid an up-front open access fee. The library itself is
available to more practicing professionals because ACM grants access through
licenses to organizations. These changes have reduced revenues for digital
library and other publication subscriptions. While it does not have a final answer, ACM has been making good headway toward finding revenues to support
its knowledge base in a way that it can
ultimately be free to the public.
But ACM’s biggest challenge concerns the relations between two major
sectors of its members. The “
academic-research” sector is members who
are on the faculty of universities and
colleges or are employed by industry
research labs. The “practitioner” sector is members who are practicing nonacademic professionals, either self
employed or employed by a company.
ACM sometimes uses the term “
industry professional” for practitioner.
One aspect of this challenge is bridg-
ing the gap between ACM’s treasure
trove of research papers (in the digital
library) and the working worlds of prac-
titioners. Most research papers are com-
munications among researchers that
enable the advancement of a research
field. Many practitioners, however, find
these papers difficult at best and opaque
at worst. Bridging the gap means find-
ing authors who understand both
worlds and can translate the key ideas
of research into useful ideas for prac-
tice. This is quite difficult because few
such authors exist. A fine example is the
The Morning Paper, a five-times weekly
blog by Adrian Colyer in the U.K. (http://
blog.acolyer.org); in each issue, Colyer
translates a research paper into terms
and connections that practitioners can
use. Colyer has a relationship with ACM
through the Practitioners Board.
Another aspect of this challenge is
in leadership: ACM has lost its ability to
populate its leadership positions with
a mixture of academic-research and
practitioner professionals so that these
two worlds will get to know each other
and work together for a stronger profession. All members of the ACM Council, and most of the SIG leadership, are
from the academic-research sector.
ACM has been particularly good at supporting its professional academic and
research members with first-rate, widely respected publications, conferences,
and awards. ACM has been less attentive to helping practitioners develop
their professional skills, at articulating
standards for essential professional
skills, or at developing awards and other recognitions for industry professionals. The ACM Nominating Committee
has its work cut out for it.
ACM could do much more in recognizing practitioner members for their
contributions. Most ACM awards today go to members of the academic-research sector. The Distinguished Service
Award, initially chartered in the 1960s as
an industry professional award co-equal
in prestige to the Turing Award, has
faded into semi-obscurity and is now the
only ACM award with no purse; it could
be rejuvenated as a major recognition
for senior practitioner members. ACM
could also set up new awards explicitly
for the practitioner sector.
Although ACM has major programs
for practitioners—including professional development, learning center,
and Queue magazine—practitioner
members frequently tell us that ACM
does not understand them. The Practitioner Board, under the leadership
of Terry Coata and Stephen Ibaraki,
has begun to turn this around, with
50 practitioner volunteers helping the
board and another 100 providing advice through the GPAC network.