Evan Butterfield: Director of Products and services, IEEE Computer Society

Jun 6, 2015 by


An Interview with Evan Butterfield: Director of Products and services, IEEE Computer Society.

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Evan, first of all, what is your title and what would you say you do at IEEE?

I’m the director of products and services for IEEE Computer Society. The Computer Society is the largest of the IEEE’s more than 40 technical societies, with about 65,000 members around the world. I head up the staff team that works on our dozen magazines, 19 scholarly journals, 200 conferences, and of course our growing professional education efforts. CS staff supports a legion of volunteer leaders and subject matter experts that make all those products and services.

2) Now, let’s talk about the “state of the art” of current computer training. Who is doing the training and are they keeping up with the field?

There are many different types of training tools and training providers in the computer world – virtual sessions, e-learning, mobile-friendly courses, and of course MOOCs – and such a vast range of delivery options and tools, that singling out any that are specifically “state of the art” today is virtually impossible. Similarly, those tools and models are being used by so many different types of training providers such as professional societies (like the Computer Society), in-house trainers, consultants, professional training companies that specialize in the computer field, and of course many universities also provide a variety of training services through their continuing education and executive development programs. The Computer Society, for instance, has partnered with universities to offer MOOCs.

3) For those in the field (and I mean this sincerely) how they heck do they keep up with the continual changes and the new things that flood the market?

Well, despite all the “Wild West”-type range of options and choices today, it’s actually not that difficult to keep up with new changes in a technical field. We live in an age of higher specialization and greater inter-connectedness than ever before, and between social networking and the micro-communities established by people in very specific fields of interest, the vast amount of information out there can get pretty effectively filtered.

There are of course the traditional ways of staying current, and CS plays an important role in that regard: conferences, peer-reviewed publications, and topic-focused technical communities. We’re integrating professional education opportunities into many technical conferences as well.
Academic researchers and industry are more inter-connected than ever before, quite often academic researchers will be consulting for and working with industry research labs. Communication and collaboration are very common in the software and computer field. The “Open Source” movement obviously encourages sharing and collaboration, and has been a very powerful force in the computer field.

4) Okay – I am a low tech guy in a high tech world – what is this Scrum stuff–members- professionals, Masters, to product owners—and who should be buying or renting or using this stuff?

Scrum is just an effective method of controlling the development process. It’s basically just a set of roles, responsibilities, and meetings for communication that are designed to facilitate and coordinate software development projects. The Scrum approach emphasizes decision making from real-world results rather than speculation. A long, complex process is broken up into “bite-sized” intervals referred to as “sprints” (typically 1 to 2 weeks). Each sprint represents a segment of the process that can be successfully completed before the next sprint is planned. This way, a development process becomes a series of successes, with problems identified and addressed quickly by a focused team. Time is divided into short work intervals, known as sprints, typically one or two weeks long. Scrum identifies three roles in the development process: generally speaking, they are the Product Owner (who, obviously, owns the project and/or end product); the Scrum Master (who manages the Scrum process itself); and the Team (the folks who do the heavy lifting).

The Scrum process is really just a part of the Agile software development process – to throw another buzzword into the mix. Agile evolved as a response to the failure of the traditional software development project management methods (The old “Waterfall” approach). Agile emphasizes communication and collaboration, functioning software, team self-organization, and the flexibility to adapt to business realities as they pop up – as they inevitably do!

5) Cloud computing – what are the issues with cloud economics, security, regulation/governance? What does the average business or user need to know?

“Cloud economics” basically refers to the economic conditions, economic forces, business drivers, and other related issues that impact the costs and benefits involved in adopting and using cloud technologies. The term is also used to describe the economy inside the cloud: things like monetization, charging, billing, and taxes related to cloud-based transactions.

Cloud computing is appealing for business because it offers a relatively inexpensive method to provide access to information, services, and advanced computing resources that might otherwise be well beyond the resources of the business. Cloud computing makes it possible for end-users to access fully functional software and computer services online at little or no cost using inexpensive terminals or mobile communication devices that connect to the cloud via the Internet. Cloud computing opens up new business opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs by eliminating the need to acquire and maintain tech infrastructure, and gives businesses in general the ability to scale their technology assets depending on fluctuations in demand. So the cloud can have a very positive impact on a service provider’s overhead costs – including, of course, its energy costs – and can contribute to reducing its carbon footprint.

I have to mention that the Computer Society offers an informative series of e-learning courses that address cloud economics, security and governance issues.

6) Enlighten me – what is parallelization and vectorization?

Parallelization refers to using multiple processing elements simultaneously to solve a problem. It’s sort of analogous in my mind to Scrum – a problem or process is broken up into independent parts that can be executed independently by individual processing elements. Unlike a Scrum process, though, the parallelization allows the various chunks to be worked on simultaneously, rather than as parts of a benchmarked linear process.

Vectorization is just a special kind of parallelization. In vectorization, software programs that are designed to perform one operation at a time are modified to perform multiple operations simultaneously.
We’re all running around depending more and more on multiple mobile devices, and power consumption by those devices – and the heat generated by them – is a big issue in computer science today. Parallel computing, especially in the form of multicore processors, is an important way to help reduce power consumption and especially the heat generated by the computing processes: it’s what keeps your phone from burning a hole in your shirt.

And again, I have to mention that the Computer Society offers a lecture series on this topic by some of the world’s most prominent experts in multicore.

7) Who are you really geared toward?–Schools? Industry? Business?

The answer to that one’s easy: Yes. The Computer Society is made up of volunteers and subject matter experts who are leaders in academia, industry, and business. Our products and services address the diverse needs of each of those communities, from the peer-reviewed scholarly research we publish to our research-oriented conferences, and from our more widely-accessible (and also peer-reviewed) magazines to our “Rock Stars” series of industry-focused daylong Q&A events featuring prominent leaders in the technology industries. Our professional education and development efforts are aligned with both universities (where we support and augment established programs) and industry (where we offer training, job growth, and skills certifications).

8) Tell us about IEEE.

IEEE is a big organization, with more than 65,000 members in 160 countries, organized into over 40 technical societies focused on a wide range of electrical and electronic engineering. It’s the world’s largest professional association dedicated to “advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.” IEEE’s societies do that through publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and – as we’ve been discussing – educational activities. IEEE also generates and maintains standards, funds scholarships, and supports international development and relief efforts through the application of technology through programs like Smart Village, which works with local entrepreneurs in countries such as Cameroon and Nigeria, to help set up micro-utilities using renewable energy technology to power homes, businesses, and schools.

The Computer Society is (as I said before) the largest of the IEEE’s societies. Like a miniature version of the “parent” organization, we have a broad range of technical journals, magazines, and conferences that address areas of technical interest across the computer science and engineering spectrum. We are a leader within IEEE in the area of education and training in particular, offering an ever-expanding portfolio of professional education courses and materials. If you’d like, I can tell you more about that.

9) Do you have a quick and easy link or a complex and intricate one that is going to give me a headache?

Oh, no headaches for you! The Computer Society homepage is really easy to find: www.computer.org. Our Professional Education homepage on that site is http://www.computer.org/education. Easy, right?

10) What have I neglected to ask?

I think you’ve been very thorough! But you didn’t ask about the Computer Society’s education and training programs, so I’ll go there. The Computer Society offers a variety of online, live, and hybrid courses and training in software engineering (requirements, design, construction, testing, and maintenance); software configuration and management; software process, quality, models and methods; software engineering economics; and project management. We also offer professional development courses in software security; secure design and development; coding; cloud computing (basics, as well as economics, business, government, and security aspects); high performance computing; embedded systems; and a video series on multicore. We support certificates of proficiency (in software engineering, agile, and Scrum), professional accomplishment (certifications as Professional Software Developer, Professional Software Engineering or Engineering Process Master, and Scrum Master), and certificates of achievement in security, cloud, high-performance computing, and multicore. I think that about covers it!

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