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Communications of the ACM


ACM and India

Over the last decade, India has emerged as an economic and technology powerhouse. Although the nation of 1.2 billion has boasted ACM members as far back as the 1960sit currently has about 1,800 professional and 1,300 student members participating in the organizationthe country has lacked an official ACM presence. "Given that there are somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million computing professionals in India it makes sense for ACM to play a key role," says Mathai Joseph, advisor for Tata Consultancy Services and a member of the ACM Council and the new ACM India Council.

ACM is in the process of establishing ACM India ( as a legal entity and will hold its first conference in late January. Four A.M. Turing award winners, including Barbara Liskov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will speak at the inaugural event in Bangalore. In the coming months, ACM is looking to hold more conferences and create chapters in areas with concentrations of technology and computing professionals. Potential cities include Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata. ACM India has also introduced 28 student chapters at various educational institutions throughout the country.

The opportunity for professional development and networking offers a great deal of potential. More than 150,000 young people start work at Indian companies each year and approximately two-thirds of these information workers are below the age of 30. "There is a lot of energy and a keenness to learn new things," Joseph explains.

Yet there are also serious challenges to confront and ACM India hopes to play a lead role in affecting positive change. For one thing, India suffers from a dearth of qualified teachers in computer science, technology, and the application of IT skills. As a result, the organization will work to attract individuals to teaching and develop the skills and knowledge required to educate students in computer science, technology, and related practices.

Also, Indian industry has long focused on limited training at the expense of overall education. "There is far too much training that's associated with specific products or tools and too little of a focus on the long-term," Joseph observes. ACM India will aim for a more holistic and focused approach to learning by working with political leaders, educational institutions, and industry to develop better systems and methods.

ACM India will work to attract individuals to teaching and develop the skills and knowledge required to instruct students in computer science, technology, and related practices.

Finally, some cultural issues and biases exist. "In India, there is general acceptance of the traditional sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology, but general skepticism that there is any science associated with computing," Joseph says. "The general thinking is that computing is all about programming, so we have a lot of educating to do, and it will take time."

Ultimately, ACM India hopes to become the voice of the Indian computing community and influence public discourse and political decision-making. The Indian branch of ACM hopes to have 10,000-plus members within the next few years. The goal is to make ACM a key information exchange and networking center for the professional and student communities.

"Like many other parts of the world, India is undergoing rapid change," says Joseph. "There is enormous enthusiasm for creating an active ACM organization in India. It offers a great deal of potential."

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Samuel Greengard is an author and freelance writer based in West Linn, OR.

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