Computing Applications

A Tale of ACM Visions

  1. Introduction
  2. Great Opportunities: Who Participates in ACM, and What ACM Does
  3. Potential Challenges: Membership, Publications
  4. Author
ACM Executive Director and CEO Bobby Schnabel

ACM members who grew up in English-speaking countries are likely familiar with the first words of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best times, it was the worst of times …"

A somewhat lame paraphrase of Dickens’ epic words applies to the vision for ACM in the coming years: It is a time of great opportunities, and a time of potential major challenges. (Which immediately shows why I am a technologist, not a novelist.)

It is a great privilege to become ACM’s CEO this month, and to be able to work with all of ACM’s members on the future of the world’s leading professional computing society. This column lays out some brief thoughts on that future, in the hopes of stimulating your reactions and suggestions.

First, on behalf of all ACM members, my deep thanks to John White who served ACM magnificently for many decades, including as president and for the last 17 years as CEO. John’s vision and efforts played a major role in positioning ACM for the opportunities that come next.

Back to Top

Great Opportunities: Who Participates in ACM, and What ACM Does

A fully international society. In recent years, ACM has become a broadly international society, with the formation of ACM China and ACM India and the continued development of ACM Europe. What would a fully international society be? It would represent all areas of the world where computing is practiced—the entire world! And its programs, leadership, recognition, and reputation would fully reflect this international diversity and breadth. This is the ACM we are headed toward.

Greater inclusion of practitioners and entrepreneurs. ACM has over 110,000 members, about 60% of whom are computing practitioners. But there are estimated to be 15-20 million computing practitioners in the world. How broadly does ACM wish to reach these people, and what offerings are most effective in doing so? And how can the lifeblood of the computing industry—entrepreneurship and investment—be fully merged with the state-of-the-art technical expertise of ACM conferences and activities? There is a lot we can do.

Keeping up with the evolution and influence of computing. Modern computing consists of verticals and horizontals—the technical areas of computing expertise (for example, graphics), and the applications of computing (for example, autonomous vehicles or healthcare). ACM was configured years ago primarily for the technical areas, and computing now dominates many of the world’s most significant applications. And both keep evolving. How we evolve with it and effectively address both dimensions is a great problem to have.

Computing education worldwide. Thanks in good part to ACM leadership and partnerships, we are seeing a surge in many parts of the world in attention to computing education at all levels, particularly pre-university. ACM and its affiliate CSTA will continue to have great opportunities to lead in developing the content, training the teachers, and emphasizing the importance of computing education.

Diversity in computing: The diversity of participants in computing education and jobs continues to be a challenge—women in most parts of the world, underrepresented minority populations in some. The world’s leading computing society can and should be a world leader in ensuring all groups are meaningfully represented in the great field of computing.

Back to Top

Potential Challenges: Membership, Publications

ACM is in wonderful financial shape but shifting sands impact two of its major revenue components:

Evolving membership models. The assumption that "I am a professional in X, therefore I join the X professional society" is undergoing a generational change. This reinforces the need to define and emphasize the benefits that come especially from ACM membership, such as special opportunities to network and connect. This is certain to be an area of attention and innovation.

Publication in the era of open access. The ACM Digital Library is a cornerstone of the society and a tremendous service to computing. In the area of open access publications, it also raises the question: Does the library provide more advantages than the collection of individual publications, which increasingly can be accessed from their authors? The answer can be and needs to be a resounding "yes"—whether through abilities to search and connect, access related materials, and more. Our entire community will help define what is helpful and how we provide it.

My colleagues tell me I am very responsive to email. Granted, 110,000+ members certainly can test and break that reputation, but I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on these issues, and promise to read them and hopefully to respond!

Back to Top

Join the Discussion (0)

Become a Member or Sign In to Post a Comment

The Latest from CACM

Shape the Future of Computing

ACM encourages its members to take a direct hand in shaping the future of the association. There are more ways than ever to get involved.

Get Involved

Communications of the ACM (CACM) is now a fully Open Access publication.

By opening CACM to the world, we hope to increase engagement among the broader computer science community and encourage non-members to discover the rich resources ACM has to offer.

Learn More