This article is published in the May 2007 issue.

Computing: It’s Hip and It’s Cool

Musings from the Chair

Each February, CRA organizes an annual summit of the presidents, executive directors and other senior policy leadership of CRA, its six affiliate societies—AAAI, ACM, CACS/AIC, IEEE-CS, SIAM, and USENIX—and the NRC’s Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) to discuss issues of common concern. Immediately following the summit, CRA’s winter board meeting begins. This year the major topics of both the summit and board meeting were computing’s image, research funding, the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), and education.

The most recent Taulbee survey of Ph.D.-granting departments shows a continued fall in undergraduate enrollments and degrees granted. This, together with negative stereotypes of computing, motivated the creation of the Image of Computing Task Force. At last year’s summit, CRA and other members of the task force agreed to fund a position at the National Center for Women and IT (NCWIT), creating a national spokesperson for the computing discipline who would work with industry, academia and government to encourage more men and women of all backgrounds to study computing.

At this year’s summit, Jill Ross, who now fills the spokesperson role, presented her initial ideas and approaches for improving the image of computing.1 These include breaking down stereotypes, nurturing computing in other disciplines, personalizing computing, and clarifying computer science versus computing (i.e., a broad definition of computing as reflected in CRA’s name and mission). If you have suggestions for Jill, I know she would be delighted to hear from you (jkross13 [at]

Despite the recent leadership change in Congress, the competitiveness initiative continues to take shape, with bipartisan support for increases in physical science research funding. In ‘Washington speak,’ this means non-biomedical research (i.e., funding for NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and NIST). CRA and its partner organizations continue to advocate for this innovation agenda, and I encourage you to get involved as well. Ask your university or corporate legislative liaison to express support to your Congressional representatives.

The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) continues to gain momentum. The CRA board approved Ed Lazowska as the initial chair of CCC, based on your nominations and the work of the nominating committee for CCC chair. At the upcoming Federated Computing Research Conference (FCRC), there will be several sessions devoted to CCC, with opportunities for you to generate ideas and discuss strategic directions for computing research.

As I discussed at Snowbird last June, computing education is in flux, driven by changing job expectations, the evolution of computing, and our shifting image. Although the “R” in CRA is research, there is a continuum from introductory computing education to advanced computing research; tomorrow’s researcher is today’s undergraduate.

To understand what role CRA might play in undergraduate education, and to determine if there is an important niche for us to fill, CRA convened a small education summit. The recommendation of the summit attendees was clear—CRA can and should address some aspects of education, in partnership with our sister computing organizations. Based on this, the CRA board approved creation of CRA-E, a committee on education. I encourage each of you to participate in this new activity when asked.

In the spirit of changing student expectations and multiple learning modes, I leave you with a parting anecdote. I recently gave a talk on the effect of computing technology on social interaction. The talk itself was in Second Life, the distributed role-playing environment, and it was hosted by the New Media Consortium. A lively discussion followed on how technology is shaping our cultural and social behavior. For more details, see my personal blog at


1. Jill Ross’s presentation, including some illuminating video from a focus group interview, is posted on the CRA web site, along with other summit presentations.

Dan Reed, CRA’s Board Chair, is the Chancellor’s Eminent Professor and Senior Advisor for Strategy and Innovation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also directs the interdisciplinary Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI). Contact him at reed [at]

Computing: It’s Hip and It’s Cool