Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



Jim Isaak President IEEE-CS: Compelling Insights from Renowned Innovator, Leader, Researcher, Educator

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Jim Isaak.


Professional Activities

Industry (30 years)

  • Digital Equipment - Director of Information Infrastructure Standards and prior to that, Director of POSIX Standards
  • Charles River Data Systems - Director, Strategic Planning, Director Marketing
  • Data General Corp - various roles: Product Manager, District Manager of Systems Engineering, Systems Engineer
  • Intel - supervisor in test automation group
  • CALMA - operating systems development, CAD/CAM applications
  • IBM - operating systems development, laboratory automation (Palo Alto Scientific Center)

Academia (6 years)

  • Teaching Information Technology at Southern New Hampshire University (full time)
  • Part time teaching at Daniel Webster College, Nashua Community College


  • 1994 Recipient of the IEEE Computer Society "Hans Karlsson Award" for "Outstanding leadership and achievement though cooperation"
  • 2000 Recipient of IEEE Third Millennium Medal
  • IEEE Computer Society "Golden Core" recipient, 1997
  • Outstanding Contribution Award; IEEE Computer Society,
  • July 1989 "For outstanding technical achievement in the development of the POSIX Standard (P1003)"
  • IEEE-CS Technical Committee on Operating Systems, POSIX Pioneer recognition (1988), "For contribution to the formation, growth, and adoption of the IEEE P1003.1 Standard."
  • Stanford Computing Pioneer, 1987


  • Graduate of Leadership New Hampshire class of 2002
  • MSEE-Computer Engineering and BS-Computer Studies, Stanford University (a while ago)
  • US Patent: "Method for certifying the authenticity of digital objects"

Papers, Publications and Presentations

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:01:25: What triggered your initial interest in technology and then what forces shaped your interests?
"....One major factor was my father who was an electrical engineer....I had the opportunity to get some of the top people in the field to give me ideas on how they approached the world and how I might do so...."

:02:29: Please provide your career highlights and valuable lessons you wish to share with the audience.
"....When you see something that really inspires you just go for it because if you are inspired you will end up going in places that nobody else has gone before...."

:03:56: Can you profile the IEEE-CS and then what you wanted to accomplish as President?
"....The Computer Society is one of the major computing societies in the world. In over 200 countries we run 300 conferences a year, we have 30 or so publications ranging from highly valued academic publications to magazines targeted at practitioners so itís a very widespread professional society....The main things that inspired me to get involved and things I want to accomplish involve how to build the environment into the 21 century for professionals...."

:06:52: What is the impact of computing on the future and what is the challenge?
"....The impact for society is huge - the cease and fail. When that happens on a larger scale in the area of safety or the economy, it causes great concerns....Along with that are the major challenges in the area of security and privacy....And if you look out far enough the industry is also having a huge impact on our environment...."

:10:00: How do we enable innovation?
"....Innovation has three parts....How do you spark the ideas? How do you provide the environment so that they can actually be valued and built upon? How do you translate the ideas into a long term impact for society?...."

:12:38: You have a passion for social capital - what does this mean and can you profile the research in this area?
"....Social capital is a fairly new term applied to a fairly old concept. Basically itís when people get together and start interacting with each other and build relationships. They learn to trust each other and understand what they can do together...."

:16:25: How does involvement with the IEEE-CS support Social Capital?
"....Weíre there sort of to keep on top of the profession Ė what are the technologies, whatís happening, what the academic research is saying....Itís not what happens in the conference room itís what happens in the hallway. Thatís really important to realize. They [professional societies] give you the environment where you can actually meet people, start to interact with them and then let that grow...."

:19:24: What is meant by cross-boundary spanning and dimensions of diversity?
"....Within your organization - if youíre in engineering and you slip over and talk to people in marketing, you just crossed a boundary. The better you understand them and they understand you, that could have a huge benefit to your organization....One aspect of diversity is clearly that people bring that different degree into the room and the different perspective from that. Cultural diversity brings huge value to the table because people will see things differently and have a different way of approaching it, and you get two different solutions - some of which are going to be better than others...."

:22:55: How would you define boundary-spanning Stars?
"....Once you start spanning a boundary - whether itís within your organization or itís outside - you become what people refer to as the Ďgo toí person Ė you essentially become a Star. You become a star because you actually do become the expert...."

:25:10: What are the major challenges facing the IEEE-CS today and how will you and the IEEE-CS work to solve them?
"....Bringing new people into the field and into our societies....The impact our own technology is having on our operations....Figure out new ways of organizing our information so that it happens quickly, in high quality and it happens in a way that a professional society can sustain itself...."

:28:10: What are the major opportunities facing the IEEE-CS and how will the IEEE-CS work to leverage them?
"....Itís absolutely the other side of the same coin. How do we use information technology to get the right information for the right person at the right time?...."

:35:27: What are some IEEE-CS success stories?
"....Taking the lead in the whole area of standards. The 802 series, Ethernet, wireless and personal area networking, Wi-Fi, WiMAX....Have been major publishers of academic articles....Engaging with practitioners - the people out there in the field actually doing the work...."

:38:01: We touched upon this but can you summarize what is the value of being involved in professional societies?
"....Innovation opportunities, the exposure....Social Capital, knowing who to go to....Building soft skills which are essential to long term business success...."

:41:31: You choose the areas - provide your top predictions of future trends and their implications/opportunities?
"...High performance data intensive computing. Itís going to permeate what we do....We need artificial intelligence-type thinking and complex problem solving to help sort out the deluge of information thatís going to come at us....Consciousness or intelligence will emerge out of computing technology....One trend I would like to see is more forward looking thinking, a field I call predictive fiction...."

:47:16: Which are your top recommended resources and why?
"....One obvious place are the professional societies, digital libraries....For expanding perception for whatís going on there are places like"

:50:24: Jim shares some stories from his many experiences and his work.

:54:52: If you could sum up your life experiences with career tips for the ICT professional, what would be your tips and the reasons behind them?
"....Anticipate change in your career....Keep your peripheral vision in focus...."

:01:00:36: What are your thoughts on computing as a recognized profession like medicine and law, with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, and globally recognized credentials?
"....Itís basically overdue. Part of the problem is that it is complex. We need to understand our profession ourselves to be able to articulate the diversity of jobs we offer and roles that we play. Some areas of computing are in the process of gaining certification and licensing and I think that is an essential step...."

:01:05:41: If you were doing this interview, are there any areas of questions that you would you ask about and then what would be your answers?
"....Green computing....Drawing young people into the field is essential, and we have the wrong perceptions of what our field does...."