CACM IT Profession Columns


Peter J. Denning


This directory contains a chronological listing of PDF copies of Peter Denning's columns on the IT profession written for Communications of ACM beginning in 2001.

A topical listing of the columns can be found here.




Dilemmas of Artificial Intelligence (with Dorothy Denning)(March 2020). Artificial Intelligence has confronted us with a raft of dilemmas that challenge us to decide what values are important in our designs.

Uncertainty (with Ted Lewis)(December 2019). What can we do when confronted with random processes whose future cannot be predicted?

An Interview with Andrew Odlyzko on Cyber Secuity (with Andrew Odlyko) (September 2019). Is a “Cyber Pearl Harbor” any greater a risk than a natural disaster? How shall we prioritize our preparations for a cyber disaster?

An Interview with David Brin on Resiliency (with David Brin)(June 2019). Many risks of catastrophic failures of critical infrastructures can be significantly reduced by relatively simple measures to increase resiliency.

An Interview with William Hugh Murray (with William Hugh Murray)(March 2019). A group of modest security practices taken together can make our systems highly secure.

Learning Machine Learning (with Ted Lewis)(December 2018). A discussion of the rapidly evolving realm of machine learning.

Navigating with Accelerating Technology Change (September 2018). Mathematical tools such as S-curves locate inflection points in technology-accelerated social spaces; where we move next depends on our navigational skills.

An Interview with Dave Parnas (June 2018). A discussion of ideas about software engineering.

The Computing Profession (March 2018). Taking stock of progress toward a computing profession since this column started in 2001.

The Forgotten Engineer (December 2017). Engineering has been marginalized by the unhealthy belief that engineering is the application of science.

Multitasking Without Thrashing (September 2017). Lessons from Operating Systems teach how to do multitasking without thrashing.

The Beginner's Creed (July 2017). We all need to learn to be expert beginners.

Remaining Trouble Spots with Computational Thinking. 2017. Computational thinking has been a hallmark of computer science since the 1950s. Around 2006 the promoters of the CS-for-all K-12 education movement claimed all people could benefit from thinking like computer scientists. Unfortunately, today’s teachers and education researchers struggle with three main questions: What is computational thinking? How can it be assessed? Is it good for everyone? Computational thinking includes designing the model, not just the steps to control it.

Misconceptions About Computer Science (with Matti Tedre and Pat Yongpradit) (March 2017). Common misconceptions about computer science hinder professional growth and harm the identity of computing.

Exponential laws of computing growth (with Ted Lewis) (January 2017). Moore’s Law began as an empirical observation of exponential growth of chip component counts and became an industry objective. The self-fulfilling prophesy idea does not explain its durability. Why is exponential growth so common in computing?

Learning to Learn(with Gloria Flores) (December 2016). Do you get stuck when it is time to learn something new? Read this.

Software Quality (September 2016). Software users are looking more and more for software that delights.

How to Produce Innovations (June 2016). Making innovations happen is surprisingly easy, satisfying, and rewarding if you start small and build up.

Fifty Years of Operating Systems (March 2016). A recent celebration of fifty years of operating system research yields lessons for all professionals in designing offers for their clients.

Why our Theories of Innovation Fail Us (With Nick Dew)(December 2015). Until we moderate our fascination with creating ideas, we will not achieve the rate of innovations we seek.

Automated Education and the Professional (September 2015). Technology boffins argue the new technologies of intelligent personal learning environments will put universities out of business. Will the purported successor, an automated global virtual university, be up to the task of professional education?

Emergent Innovation (With Fernando Flores)(June 2015). Fernando Flores discusses a new common sense about innovation.

A Technician Shortage (With Edward Gordon)(March 2015). In our elation about rising CS enrollments, we are overlooking a growing shortage of computing technicians. Our education system is not responding to this need.

The Whole Professional (December 2014). A new book inspires a reflection on what it means to be a whole, competent, and effective professional and may portend a wave of disruption in education.

Learning for the New Digital Age (September 2014). Digital machines are automating knowledge work at an accelerating pace. How shall we learn and stay relevant?

Avalances are Coming (June 2014). Computing technology has generated the conditions for radical transformations of jobs and professions -- including education. How shall we cope?

Surfing toward the future (March 2014). A new report from Chile about improving economic competitiveness advances a new interpretation of innovation. Timing is everything.

Design Thinking (Dec 2013). Design thinking is the newest fashion for finding better solutions to problems. Combining it with computational thinking offers some real possibilities for improving software design.

The Other Side of Language (Sept 2013). Observing commitments, moods, and concerns is critical to completing professional actions effectively. The conversation for action gives a framework for doing this.

Thumb Numbers (June 2013). Rules of thumb stated as numerical rules are enticing, but many are folk theorems that may not apply in your critical situation.

The Science in Computer Science (May 2013). Computer science is in a period of renaissance as it rediscovers its science roots.

Moods, Wicked Problems, and Learning (Part 2) (March 2013). Wicked problems and learning environments present tough mood challenges for leaders and teachers.  Telepresence and sensory gadgets are unlikely to replace physical presence in these areas. This part continues from Part 1.

Moods (Part 1) (December 2012). Recognizing and working with moods -- your own, your team’s, and your customers’ -- is essential to professional success. This part examines the definitions of moods and how they affect your interactions with others and your team.

Don't Feel Bad If You Can't Predict the Future (September 2012). Wise experts and powerful machines are no match for chaotic events and human declarations. Beware of their predictions and humble in your own.

The Myth of the Elevator Pitch (with Nick Dew)(June 2012). Instead of pitching, listen and offer.

The Idea Idea (March 2012). What if practices rather than ideas are the main source of innovation?

Steve Jobs and the User Psyche (October 2011). PJD reflects on a meeting he had with Steve Jobs in 1988. Published in ACM Ubiquity.

The Grounding Practice (December 2011). The skill of making and recognizing grounded claims is essential for professional practice. Getting objective data to support your conclusions is not enough.

Managing Time, Part 2 (with Ritu Raj) (September 2011). Masterful time management means not just tracking of messages in your personal environment, but managing your coordination network with others.

Who Are We Now? (with Dennis Frailey) (June 2011). Considerable progress has been made toward the formation of a computing profession since we started tracking it in this column a decade ago.

Managing Time (March 2011). Professionals plagued with overwhelm and information glut can find hope from new insights about time management.

The Long Quest for Universal Information Access (with Bob Kahn)(December 2010).Digital object repositories are on the cusp of resolving the long standing problem of universal information access in the Internet.

The Great Principles of Computing (American Scientist, September-October 2010). Computing may be the fourth great domain of science, along with the physical, life, and social sciences.

Discussing Cyber Attack (with Dorothy Denning)(September 2010) Cyber attack, the other side of cyber defense, deserves a more open discussion than it has been getting.

What is computation? (Ubiquity September 2010) The standard reference model for computation, the Turing machine, is a powerful model for digital computers and it can simulate every other computation model ever proposed. Yet the Turing machine information process -- execution sequences of machine configurations -- is not as well matched for the natural, interactive, and continuous information processes frequently encountered today. Other models more closely match the information processes involved and give better predictions of running time and space.

The Resurgence of Parallelism (with Jack B. Dennis) (June 2010) Parallel computation is making a comeback after a quarter century of neglect. Past research can be put to quick use today.

Orchestrating Coordination in Pluralistic Networks (with Fernando Flores and Peter Luzmore) (March 2010) Learning to build virtual teams of people of diverse backgrounds is an urgent challenge.

Computing's Paradigm (with Peter Freeman) (December 2009) Trying to categorize computing as engineering, science, or math is fruitless; we have our own paradigm.

Computing: The Fourth Great Domain of Science (with Paul Rosenbloom) (September 2009) Computing is as fundamental as the physical, life, and social sciences.

Beyond Computational Thinking (June 2009) If we are not careful, our fascination with "computational thinking" will lead us back into the trap we are trying to escape.

Is Software Engineering Engineering? (with Richard Riehle)(March 2009) Software engineering continues to be dogged by claims it is not engineering. Adopting more of a computer-systems view may help.

Evolutionary System Development (with Rick Hayes-Roth and Chris Gunderson)(December 2008) Large systems projects are failing at an alarming rate. It’s time to take evolutionary design methods off the shelf.

Voices of Computing (August 2008) The choir of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists who make up the bulk of our field better represents computing than the solo voice of the programmer.

Getting to "We" (April 2008) Solidarity, not software, generates collaboration.

Deja Vu All Over Again (January 2008) PJD reviews his years as Editor of the CACM. He concludes that the current "revitalization" effort is based on the same model as the 1982 effort. The big difference is that ACM has allocated 100% of the required budget, whereas in 1982 ACM allocated less than 10%.

The Choice Uncertainty Principle (November 2007) It is impossible to make an unambiguous choice between near simultaneous events under a deadline. How can computations choose reliably?

Computing is a Natural Science (July 2007). Information processes and computation continue to be found abundantly in the deep structures of many scientific fields. Computing is not -- in fact, never was -- a science only of the artificial. In Spring 2007, John Gehl interviewed PJD for ACM's Ubiquity on-line magazine.

Mastering the Mess (April 2007). We frequently find ourselves immersed in intransigent situations whose resolution demands a disruptive innovation. There are useful strategies for these situations.

Decision-Making in Very Large Networks (with Rick Hayes-Roth) (November 2006). Centralized decsion-making does not work in large federated networks, of which the Internet itself is an example.

Infoglut (July 2006). Overload of cheap information threatens our ability to function in networks; value-recognizing architectures promise significant help.

Innovation as Language Action. (with Bob Dunham) (May 2006). Special section on language-action, Hans Weigand, Ed., May 2006. By learning seven foundational practices, anyone can become a skillful innovator.

Hastily Formed Networks. (April 2006) The ability to form multi-organizational networks rapidly is crucial to humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and large urgent projects. Designing and implementing the network's conversation space is the central challenge.

Recentering Computer Science. (November 2005) The recent drops of enrollment in computer science programs signal the edge of a chasm between our historical emphasis on programming and the contemporary concerns of those choosing careers.

The Locality Principle. (July 2005) Locality of reference is a fundamental principle of computing with many applications. Here is its story.

Is Computer Science Science? (April 2005) Computer Science meets every criterion for being a science, but it has a self-inflicted credibility problem. (Spanish version.)

Network Laws. (November 2004) Many networks, physical and social, are complex and scale invariant. This has important implications from spread of epidemics and innovations to protection from attack.

The Field of Programmers Myth. (July 2004) The persistent public image of computing as a field of programmers has become a costly myth. Reversing it is possible but not easy.

The Social Life of Innovation. (April 2004) Fostering a change of practice in a community is much harder than inventing a new technology. The practice of innovation can be learned -- once you know what it is. In Spring 2004, John Gehl interviewed PJD for ACM's Ubiquity on-line magazine.

Great Principles of Computing. (November 2003) The great principles of computing have been interred beneath layers of technology in our understanding and our teaching. It is time to set them free. In Spring 2004, John Gehl interviewed PJD for ACM's Ubiquity on-line magazine.

Accomplishment. (July 2003) Language-action philosophy uncovers the truth about effective coordination and accomplishment.

The Missing Customer. (March 2003) We can no longer afford to treat our customers as abstract entities. They are real people with real concerns looking for our professional help.

Career Redux. (September 2002) How can one design a career when career as an institution is dead? Entrepreneurs have an answer.

Flatlined. (June 2002) Our propensity to create linear scales between opposing alternatives creates false dichotomies that hamper our thinking and limit our action.

Internet Time Out. (March 2002) Technology will not help with information overload. New commitment management practices will.

The Core of the Third-Wave Professional. (November 2001) The IT Profession is the first profession forming within the Third Wave of civilization. This realization can resolve several dilemmas faced by IT educators and professional societies. IT professionals need to embody value skills to be able to deliver their technical expertise to their clients.

The IT Schools Movement. (August 2001) About three dozen schools are actively engaged in designing an education for an IT professional without the idiosyncratic constraints of any particular specialty. Ten years ago it would be anathema to consider such a program. Now it's about to become mainstream.

Crossing the Chasm. (April 2001) Computing technologists must cross a chasm that separates their familiar world of technologies from the concerns of the multitudes of pragmatists who are the users of technology in a wide range of application domains.

Who Are We? (February 2001) The IT profession is not simply a community of people who make their livelihood by developing, deploying, serving, operating, and repairing information technologies. It is several dozen diverse specialties in IT-core, IT-related fields, and IT infrastructure. It does not have a coherent identity but can develop one with leadership from ACM and its allies. The tensions between software engineers and computer scientists come from a misunderstanding of the difference between core of principles and core of practices.