Computing Applications Professions board letter

Communications and the Practitioner

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Steve Bourne of Eldorado Ventures and Bryan Cantrill of Sun Microsystems
Steve Bourne (left), CTO of Eldorado Ventures and editor-in-chief of ACM Queue, and Bryan Cantrill (right), distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems

A year ago, this publication was stripped to the studs and rebuilt, with everything from the content to the cover art revisited, rethought, and revitalized. Among the many additions has been a new section, "Practice." While readers may have not recognized this section per se, they have likely noticed its practitioner-oriented content, with articles on everything from the innards of GPUs and the mechanics of hard-drive failure to debugging AJAX and avoiding the contagious virulence of XML fever—and much in between.

The story behind the Practice section merits some explanation, for it traces the history of the practitioner within ACM. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when practitioners felt largely indifferent about ACM: while practitioners grappled with thorny problems posing non-negotiable obstacles to shipping a product or deploying a system, ACM (and, dare we say, its flagship publication) could seem to be comfortably insulated in dreamy abstraction. Not that the practitioner was better served by anyone else: much content for the professional software engineer seemed to be either explicitly "for dummies" or shamelessly capitalizing on the latest fad—and often both.

Several at ACM saw these two problems—ACM’s lack of focus on the practitioner and the opportunity posed by the paucity of high-caliber practitioner content—and set out to address them with a new magazine. The result of this effort, ACM Queue, launched in March 2003 and was targeted toward the practitioner, but with an eye toward tomorrow’s problems instead of today’s solutions. In its first issue, Queue introduced itself as "a tonic for the hype weary, with a commitment to methodically dissect upcoming challenges while posing the same hard questions software developers ask themselves." Over the years, Queue stayed true to this vision by having editorial content conceived of and written by software engineers themselves. This afforded the magazine a problem focus, but one that held fast to the reality of production systems. Striking this delicate balance required constant vigilance, but it made Queue a must-read for leading practitioners.

With everything about Communications being reconsidered, the time was perfect to rethink not just the relationship between Queue and Communications, but also the role of the practitioner within ACM itself.

The growing success of Queue coincided with another change at ACM: the remaking of Communications. There had long been a desire among ACM’s leadership to refresh the venerable publication, and with everything about Communications being reconsidered, the time was perfect to rethink not just the relationship between Queue and Communications, but also the role of the practitioner within ACM itself. From this deliberation, the new Practice section was born: Queue retained its identity and its Web site, but also became an integral part of the new Communications, with Queue leading the development of articles in the Practice section as well as of columns such as Kode Vicious. Bringing Queue content to Communications has reunited the practitioner and the researcher under a single masthead, reinvigorating both communities. Indeed, laying the best work of the practitioner and researcher communities side-by-side has been a refreshing reminder of what brings us together: we of ACM are united by our common passion for making computers do nifty and useful things.

So to longtime ACM members and Communications readers, we hope you have found the new Practice section to be thought-provoking. And to practitioners (especially, those who may be new ACM members!), we hope you will not restrict yourselves to the Practice section, but will also take the time to read the latest work from the larger ACM community. To everyone, welcome to the new Communications and the new broader ACM!

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    DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1536616.1536617

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