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Vint Cerf on Why Programmers Don't Join the ACM 213

Posted by timothy
from the other-than-that-how-was-the-parade? dept.
jfruh writes "The Association for Computing Machinery is a storied professional group for computer programmers, but its membership hasn't grown in recent years to keep pace with the industry. Vint Cerf, who recently concluded his term as ACM president, asked developers what was keeping them from signing up. Their answers: paywalled content, lack of information relevant to non-academics, and code that wasn't freely available."
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Vint Cerf on Why Programmers Don't Join the ACM

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  • It Costs Money (Score:5, Informative)

    by kramer2718 (598033) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:16AM (#47572527) Homepage
    I can get every thing I need from Google. Why would I pay money to join the ACM? A 25 year old bottle of Scotch is a much better value.
    • If you're an academic and you're writing a paper you have to check on the accuracy of the quotes you used. If the quote happens to be in a premium paper you're screwed.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Not necessarily. In most cases at least respectable researchers have a tech-report variant on the web. Also, who checks quotes in CS?

        • by geekoid (135745)

          I do.
          Sorry, but if you aren't checking quotes, you are probably being mislead in most conversations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by movdqa (1122661)
        If you're an academic, then you should have access via your institution via your library. If I really need something from ACM or other research journals, I can just ask one of my kids to get it for me through their universities. I could also drive to a local university with public access to computers with journal access.
      • Re:It Costs Money (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ahabswhale (1189519) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @10:50AM (#47574343)

        Programmers aren't academics. So, there's still really no reason to join the ACM for most programmers.

      • But how many professional programmers are academic?

        Most of us work for business, government, ngo, not for profit. Where we really don't need to cite your work, just as long as it works and you are not stepping on someones patent or license you are OK.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by geekoid (135745)

      1) Looks good on a resume
      2) They have actual course to learn something instead of groping around the internet looks for some code snippet to use
      3) They have a ton of reading material
      4) Good publication hat aren't on google.
      5) Research done by professionals
      6) Contacts
      7) SIGs
      8) Scotch? Wait let me guess..you have a beard, and you wear a trilby.

      Not that you need to join just pointing out some advantages.

      You can keep getting your snippets of VB code from the internet, and I'll keep reading latest research on A

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        Every resume needs a good publication hat.

        But never admit to groping snippets, even if you learned something in due course.

        Nerds don't wear contacts, they wear real glasses.

        All published research is done by professionals, not just the paywalled kind. I'm not convinced CS has useful research, though. Useful engineering, certainly. The problem with paywalled engineering is that if you learn how it works, now you're never allowed to do things that way because of copyright and patents. If you only use freely av

  • by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:27AM (#47572569)
    I've been a member for some time but let it lapse a few years ago because it got to the point that the benefits didn't justify the expense. Or rather, the benefits hadn't justified the expense for some time, I finally got fed up hoping that might change. I finally noticed I wasn't getting my money's worth and pulled the plug on it. Much of ACM seems designed to extract maximum income from its membership. That gravy train is over, as far as I'm concerned.
    • by simoncpu was here (1601629) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:55AM (#47572643)
      I also let my membership lapse because I couldn't read all the magazines anymore. Many of my magazines remain unopened to this day.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Same here. As a student, I helped organize the EMU (Eastern Michigan University) chapter of ACM, but since entering the workforce, it ceased to remain relevant.

      It's far too focused on academic concerns and CS pedagogy (I.E. broadening the appear of computer science programs). There is literally nothing in their monthly Communications that acknowledges that practitioners actually exist, let alone that we're actually important to the field as a whole.

      I'm considering joining IEEE instead, but I fear they m

      • by tibit (1762298)

        IEEE is both historically and contempraneously a completely practitioner-oriented organization. It's raison-d-etre is to serve enginers. Some of those engineers happen to do engineering research, but that's but a fraction of its membership.

      • by DoctorBonzo (2646833) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @09:14AM (#47573635)
        I've been a member of both ACM & IEEE for several decades. As a dinosaur, I much prefer print versions of all their varied pubs to any of the lame digital editions. I come from the academic world, but have been out of it for a long time and still find ACM relevant, especially after their revamp of Communications a couple of years ago. Practitioners? The Kode Vicious column is nearly the worth the price of subscription. I've never been interested in the Digital Library at extra cost, but it's probably worth it to some.

        IEEE? Their Computer Society is marginally OK, but only for the Hal Berghel articles, as far as I'm concerned. IEEE Spectrum has become an exercise in suckitude, the bastard child of Wired's graphic design and Popular Science's "in depth" examination of current topics. Tired of this and their pimping life insurance, I've lapsed on IEEE membership and may do so for the Computer Society too in the near future.
        • by Copid (137416)
          I let my IEEE membership lapse when I got tired of feeling like no matter how many sub-memberships I had, I almost never had access to the journal articles I wanted. "Oh, you're a member of the Signal Processing Society. You'd need to be a member of the Society of Signal Processing (Splitters!) to get that article." It was starting to feel like this [theonion.com].
    • by Megane (129182)
      I was a member for a couple of years back in my college days in the '80s. And what I got out of it was nothing but a pile of magazines that weren't interesting to me. So I dropped ACM and kept the subscription to Byte.
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:29AM (#47572571) Homepage

    While you're taking CS courses in a university, ACM membership is great! But in the corporate world there's often not a good reason to join.

    I was president of my university's ACM chapter at one point, but I've let my membership lapse. The value proposition just isn't worth it to me at the moment.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2014 @05:28AM (#47572865)

      Yes, but then just try leaving.

      I joined while working on my MSc, and used some of the articles as sources of research for my master's thesis. I was immediately bombarded with irrelevant newsletters, and their byzantine website made it all-but-impossible to cancel subscriptions to said spam. You'd think that those in charge of the Association of Computing Machinery could manage to build a good website, but apparently not. Once I let my membership lapse, I was bombarded with requests to re-subscribe. It just doesn't get any worse.

    • Yeah, same for me. The ACM journals IEEE Transactions were really useful reading while I was working on my Master's. By the time I got to my PhD work though, the combination of Google Scholar, CiteSeer, and papers being available over the internet (probably in contravention to author's agreements with the journals that published the paper) made ACM and IEEE irrelevant.

      It seems to me that the only part of ACM's publication system that's still relevant is the selection and vetting of good papers for their j

    • by geekoid (135745)

      1) Contacts.

  • I haven't heard about ACM since I left school and I wasn't interested then.. so why join now?

  • by doubleplusungodly (1929514) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:32AM (#47572583)
    Did the blurb just say the ACM was for programmers? The only people I know who give the slightest of shits about ACM are students and professors. For computer programmers my ass.
    • I suspect also that "Machinery" suggests a society for hardware nerds rather than software nerds

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Lumpy (12016)

        The problem is that people on the internet in their garages are doing more for the advancement of "machinery" than the ACM has ever done in it's lifetime.

        The ivory towers are crumbling, the staunchy University model is becoming irrelevant.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You might want to learn the difference between its and it's before commenting about crumbling ivory towers. Oh, and "staunchy" isn't a word.

          • "Staunchy" should be a word. I like the sound of it.
          • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Thursday July 31, 2014 @11:17AM (#47574519) Homepage Journal

            You might want to learn the difference between its and it's

            I know the difference, but how should I go about teaching this difference to the virtual keyboard of a mobile device? Or is there a key ACM paper on how to guess where "its" or "it's" should go in context?

          • by Aighearach (97333)

            You might want to learn the difference between its and it's before commenting about crumbling ivory towers. Oh, and "staunchy" isn't a word.

            You might want to learn some basic facts about the English language before attempting to get pedantic.

            English isn't a controlled language. Words are not words because they appear in a list. Words are words if they are used. There are lots unused words that are perfectly valid words even without ever having been seen before. For example you can take any base word, and attach various prefixes and suffixes. As long as they don't contradict each other, no problem. And -y has been a suffix since Shakespeare!

            So p

        • by jythie (914043)
          Yes and no. People in their garages (though less and less) are contributing significantly, but academia still produces a lot of the fancy fundamentals. The disconnect tends to be that it takes 5-10 years for things to get from universities to hobbyists so by the time it has filtered that far across people no longer see the connection. Sure, what academics are working on now does not seem to impact what small companies and hobbists are bringing to the public, but they are laying the groundwork for future
      • by grub (11606)

        "Machinery" is from 1947. Back then you didn't type your code, you wire-wrapped it.
  • Complexity (Score:5, Informative)

    by LostMyBeaver (1226054) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:35AM (#47572587)
    ACM is a great resource and I regularly borrow journals from friends.

    My issues are simple.

    1) I'm self educated. ACM discriminates against people like me. It doesn't matter that I have 20 years experience in protocol and codec design or that I've designed algorithms which they have published articles analyzing.

    2) price. ACM is too expensive for individuals and programmers who are actual scientists and actual engineers as opposed to Python coding web site developers have a hard enough time getting bosses to pay for RAM upgrades. Things like "club memberships" are generally out of the question.

    3) Too many journals to choose from and each one costs more. Professional programmers probably want 3-5 different journals. I haven't checked in a while, but I would want the journals on compilers, machine vision, signal processing and probably AI (if those are all categories) but I wouldn't want to pay for all 3. A downloadable printable version of the actual journals or at least an ebook would be welcome. Last I checked, they only offered article by article.

    Finally, I never see ACM articles linked from Google. You'd imagine searches for things like "reduction of inter block artifacts in discrete wavelet transforms" should nail 5 ACM articles on the first page. Instead, I see mailing lists.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HuguesT (84078)

      Actually, searching for "Reduction of inter-block artifact in DWT" should produce IEEE articles, most probably from the Transactions on Image Processing journal or Transactions on Signal Processing.

      And indeed they do. My technical searches always include at the very top the most relevant academic papers from scholar.google.com

      Blocking-artifact reduction in block-coded images using wavelet-based subband decomposition
      H Choi, T Kim - Circuits and Systems for Video Technology, , 2000 - ieeexplore.ieee.org

      Inter-

    • Finally, I never see ACM articles linked from Google. You'd imagine searches for things like "reduction of inter block artifacts in discrete wavelet transforms" should nail 5 ACM articles on the first page. Instead, I see mailing lists.

      They'll show up if you use Google Scholar. If you're using the main search engine to find papers, then you're probably doing it wrong...

      • by ArhcAngel (247594)
        SOoooo...shouldn't the first link in the regular search be a link to the results from Google Scholar?
        • by Aighearach (97333)

          SOoooo...shouldn't the first link in the regular search be a link to the results from Google Scholar?

          If the information itself was valuable from the perspective of teaching the techniques, then yes. But if their utility is entirely based on their use inside academia, then no.

          If I want to learn a programming technique I'd rather learn it from code on github than try to parse out the tiny bit of signal in an academic paper. But then, I'm allergic to fluff.

    • by Misagon (1135)

      The few times that I have needed to read an ACM or IEEE article for something, I have visited my alma mater's library.
      I have usually found the article using a web search engine or in some article database.

  • by bytesex (112972) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:48AM (#47572619) Homepage

    Because of Internet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2014 @04:03AM (#47572663)

    There is nothing in there that low grade code monkeys, which is the vast majority of the software industry, need to know. I mean, how much skills do you have to have to run a mom and pop web store, publish the jillionth fart app, or maintain a payroll system?

    Of course, these code monkeys get swamped whenever the next major technology change comes along but, hey, we can't all be good enough to work for Google or Apple, etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2014 @04:20AM (#47572715)

    Turns out some recent conferences have their presentations recorded in HD video. An example is POPL. OK, so I went and downloaded a few videos on formal methods hoping to see something I cared about. I downloaded some 5 videos in one day. Next day I get an e-mail saying my ACM DL subscription has been frozen due to excessive use and I need to contact membership services to get it reopened.

    In addition to this, the ACM DL terms of use still prohibit "systematically downloading" articles which according to them means downloading all articles of an issue of a journal or all the articles of a conference. This is just plain stupid.

    • by tibit (1762298)

      Write to them, using snail-mail, sent registered and with receipt confirmation. Tell them what you think. Tell them that they are to serve you, their member, not the other way round.

  • by Foske (144771) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @04:28AM (#47572737)

    Most of these organizations and associations completely fail to understand how they would be able to create added value for their potential members. As an electronic engineer I'm supposed to be a member of IEEE. I can't think of a single reason why I would subscribe, and the people and letters of IEEE didn't make things better. On the contrary.

    • by kaiser423 (828989) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @05:20AM (#47572855)
      As a CS/EE double major that has subscribed to both journals, I have to say that the IEEE is leagues and bounds better than ACM. If I need to know how to make something (an antenna perhaps) I can find a couple dozen articles about exactly how to build one and exactly how they performed in the real world. If I need to know about some algorithm to do X, ACM can give me a bunch of crap theory without a sing/le line of implementation or anything more than how it performed in the lab. In fact, I find that IEEE tends to have more software algorithms in its papers than the ACM. The ACM is really that bad. I was implementing a neural network as a hobby for the first time ever, and the IEEE papers had no kidding empirical data about what worked and didn't and the ACM at the time had a bunch of wonderful theory papers about how one could implement a neural network, but no info on how they actually implemented the one that they tested (maybe I had not properly picked one of the dozen options each costing as much as an IEEE membership about which societies to join to get access to the right papers). Totally useless; total ego driven publishing of papers rather than helping advance the state of the industry. Needless to say I still subscribe to one, but not the other....
  • ACM carries a historic name, but subscriptions cannot justify buying just that. IMHO, most techie people do try it out and then have their memberships lapse.
  • by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @05:10AM (#47572843)
    Yes, whenever I've been googling for something and run across a paywalled ACM article on the subject I think "f*** those guys" and get my info somewhere else
    • Same thing for me. I'm naturally biased against paying exorbitant prices for papers that the publisher received for free. So for my PhD work I basically avoided using papers that were only available by paying ACM, IEEE, or Elsevier.

      Fortunately, in the age of CiteSeer, Google Scholar, and authors who publish their own papers even if they've submitted them to journals, I was able to boycott those publishers and still get my PhD done. Also, having a good team of technical librarians goes a long way.

      5-10 yea

    • Yeah, knowledge should be freely disseminated.
      We've got a hard enough time keeping the brutals at bay as it is.

      What are these guys a bunch of scientologists?
  • Why I joined: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wirefarm (18470) <jim@@@mmdc...net> on Thursday July 31, 2014 @06:42AM (#47573063) Homepage

    I listed my membership on my résumé, along with the ACM logo.
    This was 15 years ago and I was a contractor around Washington, DC, doing many short-term contracts.

    Yes, it was effective.
    In the course of interviews, the interviewer would often tell me that they had been meaning to join, or had heard of it, but not once that they were themselves a member. Just a little psychological advantage, I guess. This helped,too, because I never went to college.

    That said, I got absolutely nothing from their articles or other content.

    • by creimer (824291)

      I listed my membership on my resume, along with the ACM logo.

      LinkedIn has a new feature to list your certifications and corresponding badges on your profile page. While checking it out, ACM was listed in the pulldown. I had an ACM membership while in college. I was wondering if becoming a member again and adding ACM to my resume would make a difference.

  • I agree with a lot of the comments here about how it's got declining value. I usually catch up on issues during vacation each year and it's always enjoyable to read some RMS or PHK rant. That said, it's not really worth the $100 for the digital library on top of the yearly dues. I only have it at this point because some of the old content is helpful when working on my hobby.

  • I'm a member of a few professional organizations. Most of them are kind of money grabs when it comes to anything education related. To maintain a certification I have to get 30 hours of continuing education each year and wouldn't you know that the professional organization is just all too happy to sell it to me for vaguely unreasonable amounts of money. Or I can attend about 15 meetings and conferences a year, also costing $ each time. I try not to get too worked up about it but it isn't cheap even if i

  • Starting in the middle of the naughts, Safari was replacing ACM/IEEE as being the choice for practitioners. By the Great Recession, when choices had to be made, the replacement was cemented.
  • I'm a member of IEEE (Computer Society) & ACM. My employer pays for the first, I pay for the second (although being in each gives a small discount to being in the other). I'm not an academic, but I usually find an article or two worth reading each month in both Computer & in Communications of the ACM.

    Of course, since I primarily design hardware rather than software, this might not count as a programmer joining the ACM:).

    The prices for each don't seem out of range for the quality of the publications,

  • I've recently thought again about potential membership of professional bodies. I used to be a student member of the ACM - and, despite a steep discount, I felt there was little value there... so dropped it as soon as my discount eligibility changed.

    The idea that a professional body should prosper by restricting access to content might work in academia, but it does not represent a compelling proposition to me.

    I would consider joining a professional body if it were:

    1. Relevant to professionals who work with

  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Thursday July 31, 2014 @08:25AM (#47573407) Journal

    I am an ACM member, but I'm not happy with it. My biggest complaint about the ACM is their failure to understand why copyright is bad and needs massive reform or abolishment. Instead, they jump in bed, ideologically, with copyright extremists! $100 membership isn't good enough for access to the digital library, have to pay another $100 for that? What a total money grab, locking up knowledge and for what? To coerce membership fees from researchers? Aren't they supposed to be a non-profit organization? The digital library should be public! Freely available to all, including non-members. Some years, CACM has had a "special" issue in the summer devoted to intellectual property issues. Some of those CACM articles are downright shameful in their unquestioned support of the current system, preferring to dive into how to use copyright when they haven't discussed why. It's like the whole fake "teach the controversy" debate between Evolution and Creationism. Any science magazine that dared treat Creationism as if it was valid science would quickly lose all respect and become a laughingstock. But the ACM still soberly talks as if copyright can somehow still work. It's like listening to some cranks say that they can fix the problems with the Theory of Intelligent Design, just have to do more exploration and research.

    It's embarrassing. On technological matters, the ACM ought to be one of the most progressive organizations in existence. Instead, they were slow to get on the Internet. Their early websites were garbage nearly devoid of content, seemingly made live only because it was even more embarrassing not to have a website at all! They were late to the party for online renewal of membership. Yes, ACM has done online renewal for years, but they weren't the first to do that, far from it. Now they're going to be late to the death of copyright.

    • The Symposium on Computational Geometry recently voted to leave the ACM for this reason( https://sympa.inria.fr/sympa/arc/compgeom-announce/2014-07/msg00003.html [inria.fr]), Not only is the ACM almost completely irrelevant to practitioners, it is quickly losing relevance to academics.
    • by plover (150551)

      Amen. When I was at University, I used our library's ACM and IEEE access to get to lots of useful articles, so I know the value of having that access. But once I graduated, up came the paywalls, and up came my revulsion. It's not about the money - I waste more than the ACM membership fees funding offbeat kickstarters. While I'm still tempted every year by those ACM offers. I'm not going to support an organization dedicated to preventing the dissemination of information, not at any price.

      There are still

  • I've never heard about this ACM thing. From the looks of the website it seems like some academic oriented CS club or something from the US. They even got a "german chapter" - suprised much I am. Don't know if I need to be in that club though. I doubt any programmer of importance I look up to is a member either. Linus Torwalds? RMS? Projekt Lead of Node.js? Don't think so. ... For example, I'd be suprised if more than 10% of the Blender crew even heard about this, let alone were a member.

    My 2 cents.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      It's not a "CS club", it's one of the largest academic communities in the world. Their weight varies by discipline, but in mine (computer graphics) they're ubiquitous: SIGGRAPH is run by the ACM. That's a conference with tens of thousands of attendees every year where major companies like Microsoft, NVIDIA, AMD, Intel, Autodesk and more go to show off their new research and products, both hardware and software.

      The problem the ACM has is that joining has little incentive if you don't go to a conference. If
  • I can't speak for programmers as I'm more on the sysadmin side of things but joined initially when I came across some really interesting articles on virtualization from their magazine. Then I started to get the magazine regularly and it was a horrible, horrible read. It's not designed for effective data transmission. It just felt like a way to allow fellow-nerds to get published. I'm able to gain more information from an issue of Wired than I was from an ACM mag. But that could just be me and my background.

  • That sounds like some schools that are loaded with theroy and lacking real skills.

    I know this programer who went a to a state school and I have spotted quite a few bugs / coding errors in there code when it's running and I don't even work in QA or work at the place they work at.

  • ACM lost the mainstream audience back in the early 1980's when a group from HP's PARC got involved. Before then the SCM's focus was computers and software; those guys brought in their social and political agenda. The Journal became their soapbox for issues programmers didn't care about (similar to some of the off topic flame wars we've seen in slashdot over the past couple of years). Once they lost their audience they never got it back.
  • The main reason not to join ACM is that they spam the hell out of their members (and even prospective members and former members). Here are just some examples of recent complaints from computing professionals:

    I have never been a member of ACM myself, but my e-mail addresses are (or were, the last time I checked) regularly bombarded by their solicitations. Now everythi

  • I notice people under 35 dont join much of anything whether its hiking groups, sports teams or professional societies. That generation isnt into groups.
    The majority of programmers are under 35.
  • ... this would appear to be a call for the ACM to adopt a more open model. And how could that be bad? [Respond on the form provided on the next page.]
  • I've been programming professional since 1995, never heard of them. I work primarily on open source systems and it seems like this organization is not really aimed at that group, at least based on the 'no code, behind a paywall' thing.

    I contribute and volunteer on several open source projects, that's what I do to promote my interests and the interests of projects important to me and my career. Not sure how spending time and money on this ACM group would accomplish anything for me.

  • by ygslash (893445) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @11:54AM (#47574819) Journal
    From the point of view of academics, the response of Suresh Venkatasubramanian [blogspot.com] to Cerf's letter has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention, and is worth a read.

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