Looping In and Out of the ACM
Declaring and Initializing the ACM
Python, Java, C Sharp. Looking at these three words, many people would simply mistake them for a snake, a cup of coffee, and a music note, but they are so much more. These words, along with many others, make it simple to build a website, a program, or an app. Without them, the world would be an entirely different place. They have not only changed the way we think, but also the way we work.
Whether you specialize in Python, Java, C Sharp, etc., the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is where any programmer can come to gain professional knowledge. The ACM describes itself on its website as “the premier membership organization for computing professionals” that, “delivers resources that advance computing as a science and a profession; enables professional development; and promotes policies and research that benefit society.” (acm.org) The ACM stands for betterment of not only themselves, but for society as a whole. This is what I want to stand for in my daily life.
My personal interests that led me to be interested in the ACM are the same things that led me to be interested in computer science — video games and puzzles. Growing up, I was playing educational video games on the family computer daily. These not only enhanced my quest for knowledge, but their puzzles were fun and made me strive to be better and better at puzzle solving. As the years progressed, my love for puzzles kept growing as did my need to challenge myself. To this day, there is not a puzzle that I won’t attempt to solve. Without these building blocks to my personality, I probably would not be the person I am today. While my personal interests do have an impact on my decision to study the ACM, I cannot move forward with my research without first considering the positions that I hold which will impact my study. After all, we are defined by our experiences.
Due to my experience with Java programming, I have basic knowledge that will help me study the ACM. As I position myself in relation to the programming world, I have found that I know very little about the overall programming culture. I am interested in many different programming languages, as well as quick and easy ways to program, and in computers that look aesthetically pleasing. I want to gain mastery over programming so that computers will not gain mastery over me.
The question is, why, after gaining all of my experience and knowledge, am I just now choosing to get actively involved in the computing world? The best way to answer this question, is to look at the fixed position of my life. Looking back, I have led a very sheltered life. I am a nineteen-year-old white male, the only child of two chemical engineers and was brought up in the middle-class. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and went to private schools for elementary and middle school, only transitioning to public schools for high school and college. All of these factors are fixed and immovable, and greatly contribute to who I am. Many ask why I am not following in the footsteps of my parents, to become an engineer. What made me interested in computing, instead?
However, this is not all that there is about me. I am not solely defined by the facts that I cannot change; I am also defined by the things that I have personally experienced. Some of the most key things about me, are that I am a Christian, a conservative, a Latin (language) enthusiast, and I greatly enjoy movies and video games, but the thing that has moved me most towards programming, is my love of video games. Ever since I was young, I have loved being immersed in computer generated worlds. The music is catchy, the graphics are great, and the storyline is completely enthralling. Video games are what have led me to be a programmer and therefore what has brought me into common ground with the ACM.
However, this is not the final step. I must now examine how my position affects my place within the ACM subgroup. Now excluding my fixed positions, my experiential positions help. I am a new ACM member and I have just attended my first few meetings. Because I am a new member to the ACM, I am greatly hindered in my ability to compare myself to the group, but my membership makes me a relative insider. My basic ability to program, being Caucasian and male, and being a Georgia Southern student put me as an insider in this organization. Due to my inexperience and youth, I am an outsider, as most of the members are older and more experienced programmers. Because of my interest in programming and video games, and because I express interest in the group, I am an insider.
Methods of the ACM
One of the key reasons for my studying and joining the ACM, is its national recognition and the professionalism that they strive to instill in all of its members. The head organization, while hosting conferences and events, main emphasis is providing its website.
This website is laid out, much like any other website. The header is a light-blue background consisting of their logo and name. On the right side of the header, there are two rows of buttons, with a search engine dividing the rows. The top row of buttons, consists of “site map”, a directory for the entire website; “accessibility”, ways to quickly navigate around the website; and “contact”, contact information for any questions you might have. The bottom row of buttons, includes “join”, how to become a member; “renew”, how to renew your membership; “subscribe”, follow several journals and magazines; and “create web account”, free account for information about the site. The left side of the page shows a simplified version of the site map, and social networking links. The main part of the website consists of the following categories: “Featured Items at acm.org”, “ACM Information for Authors”, “Advancing Computing as a Science and a Profession”, and “Announcements”. The bottom of the page shows the links of all the pertinent information about the website (i.e. “About ACM”, “Contact Us”, “Boards and Committees”, etc.). The content of this website pertains to information regarding ACM, and developments in programming. The website is sponsored through the paid membership.
ACM’s members range from the everyday programmer, to heads of corporations. However, each and every one of these members joins the ACM, because of their desire to take their jobs seriously. “I think participating with the ACM and what the ACM means to me, is about taking my career as a software engineering seriously.” (Why Join ACM) This also provides the members with a way to grow. “Being in the ACM is all about my commitment to self-improvement.” (Why Join ACM)
In addition to ACM’s national organization, there are several small chapters including one here on the Georgia Southern Campus. It is currently led by four officers; Brandon, Derik, Jessica, and Robert. The ACM meets in Computer Lab 2212 in the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology building (CEIT). At the beginning of the semester, the ACM met on Tuesdays at 6:30 PM, but halfway through the semester, the date and time were changed to Wednesdays at 5:30 PM. At the start of the semester, around thirteen to fifteen members would show up, but after the meeting time changed, only a few were able to attend the meetings. The general layout for meetings, with very few exceptions, is that the officers begin discussing the topic for each night, for around thirty to forty-five minutes and then they make the announcements for upcoming events. The ACM occasionally brought in a guest speaker. During the guest speaker events, more people (including those that did not belong to the ACM) expressed an interest in what was happening and showed up.
Variables of the ACM
The GSU chapter’s meeting room is a computer lab, with dimensions of 30 by 30 feet, and an entrance in the right side of the back wall; all food and drink are banned. Everything inside of the room, with the exception of the white boards and printers, is either a dull, depressing grey or black. It’s hard not to notice how much the ceiling and floor reflect each other. Fashioned like every other room in the building, with its tiles, lights, vents, speakers, projector, and security camera, the ceiling reigns supreme as the cleanest thing visible. The floor, however, is the yang to the ceiling’s yin. With the floor being trampled daily, and with the trashcan’s contents overflowing, the floor seems to pick itself back up, and say “I can take even more.” This room seems to reflect the lives of each individual that crosses its path. The ceiling reflects the best days (nice, clean and comfortable), while the floor reflects every bad day (dirt, filth, and feeling like the lowest of the low). However, in between is the room itself, showing that life is the coming together of our highest and lowest points in this everyday life.
Inside, there are a total of forty-one computers spread throughout the room, with one computer in the front of the classroom for the teacher’s use. Additionally, there are twenty-three tables. Two tables are for the teachers’ use and sit up at the front of the room – they are the focal point of the room. The teachers’ desk holds a computer, a scanner which is used to project pieces of paper onto the board, and controls for the projector unit. A separate table is positioned in the back and holds a printer which is almost constantly in use. There are twenty computer tables arranged into five rows and four columns, with the columns partitioned by a walkway into three columns on the left and one column on the right.
On the front wall of the room, there is a smart board, a board connected to the computer which displays the monitor and doubles as a white board. On either side of the smart board, are two additional white boards. There is an emergency exit on the left side of the room, which has a warning sign that reads “Emergency exit only, push until alarm sounds, door can be opened in 15 seconds.” Both entrance and emergency exits have signs that read “Exit” above them. On the back wall near the door, there are two light switches.
Glitches in Its Programming
However, the ACM is facing challenges in how to grow the organization and how to keep it viable and relevant. They are facing tough questions such as, “What, if anything, might ACM do more than it is already doing, to grow interest in and familiarity with computing and the computing profession?” (Cerf) The situation ultimately hinges on how can the ACM can potentially change, in order to gain new members. The ACM laments, “It is not clear that ACM’s traditional products and services, as well as the current models and means for financing them, will provide the necessary resources to address these looming challenges.” (On the Future of ACM) People have questioned whether or not the ACM can continue on as it has in the past, but the ACM insists that, “The set of changes unveiled here are but another step in an ongoing process in which ACM adapts to the new realities of scholarly publishing.” (Boisvert) Ultimately, the ACM must inevitably change, in order to keep up with all of the most recent publications and to remain relevant in the professional world.
In order to get a better understanding of the ACM and the people involved, I was able to set up interviews with its officers by contacting Derik Wuchte, their vice president. Quickly responding, Derik told me that the officers would be willing to meet with me at 5:45PM on Wednesday, March 12, in Room 2212 in the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology (CEIT) building on campus.
Entering this almost empty room, I am warmly greeted by Brandon, Derik and Robert as they sit talking amongst themselves on the left side of the room. I proceed to take my seat on the opposite side of the room, so that I would be able to take some notes on the room itself, as well as my interviewees. The room, like almost all of the other rooms in the CEIT building, is an average sized computer lab that is able to seat about forty people. Much like the gears of a clock, everything is arranged into its proper place and is very dull. With the exception of the smart board and white boards, everything in the room is either black or a really depressing grey. On top of each table, are two computers, and positioned behind each, are two uncomfortable chairs. Like all of the other classrooms, there is an area up in the front of the classroom for the teacher, a printer nestled by itself in the back, an emergency exit, and several lights and pop-down sprinklers. After finishing up my notes on the room, the final officer arrives.
I begin to take notes on the officers: Brandon Jacobs (President), Derik Wuchte (Vice President), Jessica Tran (Secretary), and Robert Howerton (Treasurer). Brandon is a senior at GSU, Caucasian, has light brown/blonde hair, and appears confident in his ability to lead. Derik is a junior at GSU, of Asian descent, has black hair, and seems to be the type of person to never give up on a challenge. Jessica is a sophomore at GSU, of Asian descent, has black hair, and seems to be nervous, but dedicated and hopeful. Robert is a junior at GSU, Caucasian, has red hair, and is really confident about himself.
After the officers are finished settling in, they decide to be interviewed in the following order: Robert, Jessica, Derik, and finally Brandon. Sitting down in the seat adjacent to me, Robert was thoroughly prepared to answer any and all questions that I had. Excitedly, Robert told me that he grew up around computers which strongly influenced him to study computer science. Other major influences included his father, an information technology director, and his mother, who also works in computer science. Interestingly enough, Robert also told me that he wanted to go into psychology.
One of Robert’s favorite things about computer science is its broad spectrum of specialties. He stated, “You can go and really whatever you want to do, you can do it.” He elaborated that you can use even Global Positioning System (GPS) to track animals, or build Artificial Intelligence’s (AI) units. One of his main goals is to “make this organization a bit bigger, as right now we are really, really small and can’t fund large projects, and so next semester, I would like to step up our fundraising.”
After I finished the first interview, I began to realize that some of the assumptions that I had about the members were not accurate. Jessica sat down next to me, relaxed and ready to answer all of my questions. While getting to know Jessica, I was surprised to find out that she originally came to Georgia Southern as an undecided major. I had assumed that everyone in the computer science field already knew what they wanted to do with their lives.
Curious as to why she chose computer science, I asked, “What first interested you in computer science?” Not surprisingly, she answered, leaning forward and in a prideful tone, “A big influence in my life was my mom because she did graduate studying CS at Kennesaw State University and so I’ve always kind of grown up around the things that she did.”
Leaning back and looking thoughtful, she added and in an enthusiastic tone, “Ever since I was young, I liked to poke around things, break things, and find out why it broke and see if I could fix it so I just figured I wanted to give CS a try and ever since I took the classes, I really enjoyed it.” With her statements coupled with Robert’s statements, I could confirm my assumption that people go into computer science partly because of parental influence, and partly because of natural curiosity about how things work.
Trying to understand her better, I began to ask her about the ACM. Jessica excitedly told me that she had originally heard about ACM when she attended Kennesaw State University as a transient student. Because of the ACM’s national recognition, she wondered if GSU had a local chapter. Returning to GSU for her sophomore year, Jessica joined the GSU chapter so that she could network with other people and gain valuable information outside of class.
When I asked why she chose to run for an office in the ACM, she quickly responded, “Well of course, there was an open space, so that seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. When I first came into ACM, I really liked what it stood for and liked everything and what they were working towards and stuff.”
She continued to elaborate, “I definitely noticed some organizational problems and I’ve always kind of wanted to help and rearrange. It seemed like an organization that had so much potential, but that potential didn’t seemed to be reached. So once I saw this officer position open, I thought that this was the perfect opportunity for me to get my voice in and hopefully watch this organization grow and hopefully reach its full potential.” I was greatly surprised by this statement. I had always assumed that the Georgia Southern chapter was well advertised and organized, because of the information I had received from my academic counselor. Along with improving the organization of ACM, Jessica wants to be able to get the name of the organization out on campus and grow the organization. Jessica is also involved in several other organizations and plans to bring her experience, from those groups to help improve the ACM.
My interview with Derik casually began with him telling me that what got him interested in computer science was “basically it was a job. When I first talked to my parents, they said ‘you’re going to college, you want to be focused on getting a job’.” I got the same advice from my parents and teachers. He mentioned that there were other things he was good at, such as writing, but that computer science just seemed to fit him well. Like most teenagers, he originally didn’t want to listen to his parents, but as he grew older, he realized that they were right. He also commented that his favorite aspect of computer science was that it was challenging – there are high points and low points. Despite that, Derik keeps on moving forward, no matter what.
After finishing my inspiring interview with Derik, Brandon sat down and told me about his experience. He originally became enraptured with computer science because of his father’s work as a software engineer. He told me excitedly that he was originally an engineering major, but because of his father’s influence, he changed to computer science. He commented that his favorite part of computer science is the problem solving aspect, which he says has come in handy in several parts of his life.
While I originally thought that all of these interviews would be the same, I was proven wrong. Each person had their own unique story to tell, each with a very different beginning but a similar ending. These interviews not only surprised me, but also enlightened me.
Returning My Findings
By studying the members of the ACM, I wanted to understand what connects them, what separates them, what drives, motivates, and inspires them. I wanted to know how they view themselves, how they think other people think of them, what discourages them, what they aspire to do, and what they hope to be able to do. Reflecting on my study of the organization, I have gained great insight into the club and the people involved. Throughout all of the interviews, each person stated their own reasons for joining the ACM, why it is important to them, and the desire to grow and improve as individuals. Robert wants to be able to reach out and help the community, Jessica wants to get to know more people in her major, and Brandon and Derik want to be able to get help for future career prospects. The informants want to grow and improve the ACM, reach out to the community through service work, and gain valuable knowledge outside of the classroom. They seek to not only better themselves, but everyone else around them.
Using the interviews and my detailed notes on the meetings, I gained a better sense about the organizations and its members. I discovered that the one thing that tied them all together was the desire to improve. No matter what the challenges or road blocks, they keep striving forward in hopes of achieving a better tomorrow. If I have gained anything through this experience, I only hope that it is at least a fraction of the drive and motivation that each member of the ACM has to better themselves.