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I recieved free membership to the Australian Computer Society when they granted me a scholarship/arranged an internship. With that internship, I have my first real world experience as an software engineer. I haven't yet taken advantage of my membership in any real way, other than enjoying their periodical, which is semi-nontechnical.

Now, I'm considering joining something more international and/or serious, such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) or IEEE.

How important is it as a software engineer to be a member of an industrial or professional organization? What benefits do such memberships grant you, in terms of exposures to new technologies and connections with future employers?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Blrfl, gnat, Kilian Foth, Bart van Ingen Schenau, GlenH7 Mar 12 at 13:51

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
To clarify: IEEE, stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Many, are not interested in the general / parent society of the IEEE itself, but the IEEE Computer Society in particular. That said, it is also certainly not uncommon to have interests crossover, myself include. Disclosure: I am a professional member of both societies. –  mctylr Sep 14 '12 at 22:58

6 Answers 6

up vote 2 down vote accepted

IEEE

IEEE does important things to support researchers and practicing engineers. Computer Society is their group for software developers. I used to read their flagship journal, IEEE Spectrum almost cover to cover each month. They have nice annual features like Technology Winners and Losers of 2012 or Dream Jobs 2012, in addition to themed issues each month. Computer Society has IEEE Computer magazine which is also very distinguished and I got a kick out of seeing articles by several of my professors. Computing Surveys is less often published, but it does a really great deep dive into topics sometimes at a key time when someone with a pivotal role will identify the issues between taking something shown in the lab into the world.

ACM

ACM is also very fine, and sponsors the Turing Award. SigGraph and other conferences and their many journals help transfer knowledge between technologists.

Local Involvement

If you want direct community involvement, it is what you make it. In some places these groups are not as active as others. I was an officer in my local section of IEEE and it was time consuming, but worthwhile.

Perks

Both have practical benefits you can use like a discount for Safari for ACM, and a discount on Life and other kinds of insurance for IEEE. For most of us, fees do matter, so having a discount can make that a little easier.

Student Involvement

Student chapters can be a good way to get started. In addition, I believe that IEEE has discounts for recent grads, as well as their GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) program. I particularly enjoyed affiliation with Eta Kappa Nu which was an independent engineering honor society for many years, but recently joined with and received sponsorship from IEEE. Eta Kappa Nu started at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and was a mostly a US thing. Recently they have started branching out internationally.

Networking Opportunities

For people who are interested in networking outside their individual company, hearing monthly talks about the profession, and attending a low cost professional development seminar, at least where I live, IEEE fits the bill pretty well. ACM used to meet jointly with IEEE Computer Society where I live, but I thing that fell by the way at one point. If the local meetings are of high value to you, find out if your community has an active local chapter. If you are really ambitious, sometimes the mother ship will help you start one by providing member lists and typically some amount of funding for each meeting held in exchange for an attendance list.

Conferences

IEEE has an organizational structure that I find regrettable, but it may be necessary. Local chapters are run through RAB - Regional Activities Board. In contrast, conferences are run by TAB - Technical Activities Board. Because of the split, many worthwhile conferences would come to town without any interaction with the chapters. This was unfortunate because the chapter newsletter was an inexpensive method of advertising, the local members needed the training from the conferences, the conferences needed the attendance from the local community, and at least a few times, enterprising officers in our chapter were able to find out about conferences and snag distinguished speakers for their monthly meetings without having to pay hotel and travel.

Great and Distinguished People, Mentoring Opportunities

The men and women I knew from ACM and IEEE were great mentors and leaders in technology. Joe Vickroy was our PACE Chairman and was involved in legislative advocacy for science and engineering after having had a career with NASA as a project manager on Apollo. Al Gross was our awards committee chairman, and a chief scientist at Orbital Sciences Corporation, and was the inventor of the Walkie-Talkie. Others had senior technical and management leadership at companies like Intel, Motorola, General Dynamics, Boeing, and local universities and colleges. We had people working with electric cars, alternative energy start ups, a consultants network, and educational outreach to elementary and high schools.

It Is Worth It

Getting involved with these organizations can be very valuable and satisfying, and what you put in will be rewarded back in terms of friendship, learning, and belonging to a community that stands for some worthy ideals.

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Suggestion: Split IEEE and IEEE Computer Society into separate headers, as they are separate groups where membership in one does not imply membership in the other. The majority of electrical engineers in the IEEE are not IEEE CS members, and likewise many IT professionals and academics who do join IEEE CS may choose to not become an IEEE member. –  mctylr Sep 14 '12 at 23:06

Purely anecdotal:

I live a full and happy, healthy life without any involvement in these industry groups. I'd say most (if not all) of the other developers I work with are in the same boat.

What sometimes is more valuable, in my experience, is membership in industry groups of the business domain of your employer, such as being a member of an Insurance Industry Group and taking introductory insurance courses if you work for an insurance company.

So to answer your question, it has not been important at all, for me. Maybe for other people it has been important.

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Targeted groups in your particular industry are great. My community used to have fabs for Motorola, Intel, Fairchild, Microchip Technologies who interacted at IEEE Chips, Hybrids, and Devices Society meetings. When Motorola closed a few of its local plants, I bet there were people who were glad they met some Intel people through these groups. We have a local Google Users Group and another group that specializes in mobile device software development. They are great resources for training, contacts with vendors, and networking. –  DeveloperDon Aug 22 '12 at 1:56

Associations like IEEE and ACM tend to be useful for researchers, because being a member (for something like $200 a year) typically gets you $100-$300 discounts on conferences. So lots of researchers are a member purely because it's cheaper than not being a member. I am not aware of professional software engineers being a member of these associations, but there are bound to be a lot of them.

I've been a member for a couple of years and to be completely honest, they tend to flood you with e-mail newsletters and offers, of which none are really very interesting. One thing to note about the IEEE is that it's fairly US-centric: take a look at their regional world map. While the US is divided into six regions, Europe (including Russia), the Middle East and Africa are one region. So the "regional newsletter" discusses upcoming events on the other side of the planet. So if you plan on participating, it may make sense if you live in the US, but probably not otherwise.

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The ACM and IEEE Computer Society cost about US$100/year each for base professional level membership (sources: acm.org/membership/dues and computer.org/portal/web/membership/membershipdues). I expect you can opt out of those emails. If/as memberships in other countries grow, IEEE will likely sub-divide those regions; also, they seem to be set by the IEEE, not the Computer Society. –  GreenMatt Aug 11 '11 at 9:30
    
@GreenMatt With regards to costs, I was talking about IEEE, not just Computer Society. In Europe, joining both (which is what you'd typically do, costs $201/year, more in the US). Additionally, I would expect it to be possible to opt out of those e-mails as well, but after filling out about a dozen of unsubscribe forms, tweaking everything about my user account and contacting them about it, they still send me more than an e-mail every day (although if you don't change any setting, it will be 5+ per day). Additionally: It's a little unfair to downvote someone based on incorrect assumptions. –  Deckard Aug 11 '11 at 13:37

ACM membership gives access to a brickload of education materials. You get access to Safari Books library with several hundred titles in IT (unfortunately no download option). You get access to Books24x7. Also there's ACM Learning Center with a variety of online courses .

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As a line item on your resume, don't expect it to be a major factor in getting a job. Use it as a way to be involved in the community, network, or a platform to publish or present, and you may get something out of it.

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+1, I don't give a damn about certs when I interview someone. I've met too many of the people that have them. –  Jonathan Henson Aug 22 '12 at 1:47
    
Not sure how much science you have on this, but IEEE, ACM, or Eta Kappa Nu would get my attention if I had two candidates who were closely matched. So would involvement with Stack Exchange or other groups that showed a willingness to volunteer and an interest in continuing to learn. –  DeveloperDon Aug 22 '12 at 1:49
    
To paraphrase; simply being a member is of limited value in and of itself, but being an active member can be both enlightening and reputation building. –  mctylr Sep 15 '12 at 0:00

I'd recommend maintaining memberships in both the ACM and IEEE if you have the money and a druthers for the keeping up with the professional edge of our profession.

This provides an avenue for keeping up with what is going on in the less-publicized arenas of our profession, as well as providing an antidote to the "internet hive mind". :-)

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