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Communications of the ACM

Thank You . . .


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ACM Chief Executive Officer John White

Credit: Larry Bercow

After almost 17 years, I am retiring and stepping down as ACM CEO. My term as CEO combined with 17 years as a volunteer means ACM has been a huge part of my professional life. I appreciate this opportunity to reflect a bit on these 34 years, and to say thank you.

My ACM involvement began when I was a professor of computer science at the University of Connecticut in the mid-1970s and was elected Secretary/Treasurer of SIGPLAN. The fact that ACM was an association where volunteer leadership positions were generally determined by open elections impressed me and has, I believe, served ACM well. Beginning with this SIGPLAN position, over the next 17 years I served as Vice Chair and Chair of SIGPLAN, Northwest Regional Representative to Council, SIG Board Member, SIG Board Chair, ACM Vice President, and ACM President. These years were at times challenging. ACM was not as financially healthy as it is today. Council was a large (26 members) and somewhat unruly body. There was a real division between the technical/SIG community and the general activities of ACM.

Despite these challenges, many substantive changes were made over this period. Council was reduced to 16 members, the Executive Committee began to really own Council meetings and ensure Council focused on strategic issues, we launched the SIG Project Fund to support general ACM activities, our policy effort (USACM) was launched, our push to see more women enter and stay in computing (ACM-W) was initiated, and our first efforts in K12 computer science education started.

These changes began to bring together the myriad parts of ACM. What made it all work was the incredible commitment of senior volunteers (and the inherent support of their institutions) and ACM staff. For me, the support I received from my boss and cohort in running the Computer Science Lab at Xerox PARC, Mark Weiser, and the head of PARC, John Seely Brown, to take the time necessary to run ACM when I was president was remarkable.

I left PARC to become CEO of ACM in November of 1998. At the time, the Digital Library (DL) was moving from a "free" experiment for members to a real product and service. What happened over the next few years was extraordinary. Between the senior staff at ACM HQ (Wayne Graves, Bernie Rous, Pat Ryan) and senior volunteers (particularly SIG and Publications Board leaders) we built a vision for the DL as a state-of-the-art, richly linked, digital collection of everything ACM had ever published embedded in a bibliographic database that defined computing. The launch of this new DL in 2001 set the stage for a remarkable shift in ACM. The DL became the centerpiece of the association. Publishing revenues and revenue sharing with the SIGs grew substantially. The divisions that had hindered ACM over the preceding two decades faded.

The solid financial base enabled by the DL allowed ACM to take on many new challenges. Foremost among these was the decision to invest in being a truly international organization. The effort started during the presidencies of Dave Patterson and Stu Feldman, but really grew under the leadership of Wendy Hall. ACM now has a solid presence in Europe, India, and China. Membership growth is coming from outside the U.S., and U.S. members are no longer the majority of ACM members. We are an international organization.

There have been many other areas of growth and development I am proud of, including our work related to diversity and gender equity, K12 computer science education, public policy, education policy, and our ongoing efforts to offer publishing options that meet the needs of the ACM community.

Despite being in a very strong position as an association, ACM faces challenges. Our publishing models must continue evolving in the face of ongoing pressure for increased free access to published information. The fundamental notion of a membership organization is being challenged by the new world of free, Internet-based communities and services. That said, ACM has always been able to tap into the best thinking for meeting challenges, and I believe it will continue to do so under the leadership of the next CEOan individual who knows the community well and has an incredible record of accomplishments. ACM is in good hands.

It has been a pleasure to work with hundreds of volunteers over the decades. I am particularly grateful to the ACM presidents I have worked with as CEO: Barbara Simons, Steve Bourne, Maria Klawe, Dave Patterson, Stu Feldman, Wendy Hall, Alain Chesnais, Vint Cerf, and Alex Wolf.

The hardest good-bye and the biggest "thank you," however, goes to the dedicated, hardworking, capable, and insightful staff of ACM: the directors, the managers, the administrative staffeveryone! And here there is one very special thank youand that is to Pat Ryan, ACM COO. Pat has been my partner in everything I have tackled at ACM and in everything ACM has accomplished. She is a remarkable manager and leader. She knows ACM better than anyone, she has amazing instincts, and she has been an absolute pleasure to work with. Thank you, Pat.

Serving as ACM CEO has been the highlight of my career and a privilege. Thank you.


©2015 ACM  0001-0782/15/06

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