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This article by Peter Bowditch appeared in the July 2001 edition of the Australian Computer Society's NSW Branch Newsletter
The members of the ACS make up a highly diverse group, with many different interests, both private and professional, spread out over a wide geographical area. This reflects the nature of the IT industry, as the use of computers and information technology crosses all industry and commercial boundaries. There is, in fact, no one "IT industry", but instead an amorphous collection of organisations and people with vastly different needs, skills and experiences, working on a large range of different problems and systems with the loose connection being that the work involves computers or communication technology. This is much like the older commercial professions of accountancy and the law, where the "industry" includes large generalist and specialist firms, independent operators (some highly specialised), employees within businesses that do something else but need internal expertise, academic researchers, inventors of new methods and techniques, trainers and educators, office support and sales staff.
Because of this diversity, the ACS cannot meet all the needs of all members by providing a single, homogeneous product called "Membership". Certainly, there are many things which apply to all members and can be supplied either to or on behalf of the membership as a whole, but not everyone lives in a place where delivery of services is convenient and not everyone is interested in the same things. To overcome these, the ACS has two forms of subsidiary organisation. Chapters broaden the reach of the ACS by taking some ACS activities to a wider geographical audience. Special Interest Groups (SIGs) drill down deeper to provide a more comprehensive coverage of particular issues or areas of interest and expertise.
If the IT industry is seen as the collection of organisations and people who provide products and services in the IT area, it is tempting to say that, apart from a couple of exceptions, the IT industry in NSW is located in a corridor running from the southern end of the Sydney central business district through to North Ryde. As I have pointed out above, however, the IT industry (and the ACS membership pool that goes with it) goes well beyond just those organisations that create and sell the technology. If all the meetings and services were to be provided on the assumption that everyone worked within that corridor then a large proportion of members (and potential members) would be disadvantaged.
The ACS in NSW now has three chapters. The Hunter Chapter is based in the Newcastle/Hunter Valley area; the Central Coast Chapter is in Gosford; the Western Sydney Chapter meets in Parramatta. All Chapters run regular meetings with speakers, often speakers who may also appear at the Branch Forums in Sydney, and provide opportunities for members who live and work in the relevant areas to hear speakers that they might otherwise not be able to see, to meet and network with other ACS members in their region, and to feel that they are part of the ACS. Details of coming meetings can be found in the Newsletter each month and also on the NSW Branch web site at http://www.acs.org.au/nsw.
While chapters are an official ACS activity, there is no official membership of chapters. If you are a member of the ACS you can attend your local chapter functions without having to do anything else. You may be asked for contact details and some events may attract a charge, but the ACS has no formal procedure for registration as a chapter member.
The chapters are all run by volunteers and they can always use some help. The chapter convenors all have full-time jobs and, while there is not an enormous amount of work required to run a chapter, all of them would appreciate it if you have some time to contribute or know of speakers who might be of interest to members or know of organisations who could offer interesting site visits. If you can help, please contact your local convenor. Contact details are in the Newsletter and on the web site.
Special Interest Groups (SIGs)
We don't all like the same things, and what interests some people will almost inevitably be a total waste of time for others. To meet these different interests, the ACS has a range of Special Interest Groups. In NSW at present the SIGs are Object Oriented, Computers & The Law, Software Metrics, Desktop Database Developers, Internet, Computer Security, E-Commerce, Project Management, Artificial Intelligence/Expert Systems, The Disabled in Information Technology, Human-Computer Interface & Usability, Software Quality, Management in IT and Office Automation. The groups vary in size, enthusiasm, and regularity of meetings. Many SIGs go through cycles of interest so that they are moribund for a while and then pick up momentum again. Some SIGs exists only while a particular issue is relevant and then disappear - examples are the SIGs for Y2K and GST. As well as being meeting places for people with common interests, SIGs also provide opportunities for professional development and chances to be exposed to the latest advances in your particular niche of the IT industry.
As with chapters, SIGs are supported by the ACS and are required to run under guidelines set by the ACS but there is no separate membership required. The groups may maintain their own mailing lists and charge fees for attending meetings. Contact and event details are again available in the Newsletter and from the web site. Several of the SIGs have their own web sites which are not maintained as part of the ACS site, but all are linked from the main site.
SIG convenors, like chapter convenors, are busy people with real lives so volunteers are again needed to help, although the easiest way to support a SIG (and a chapter) is to attend meetings. If you see a SIG that interests you think about how you could make the convenor's life easier by suggesting topics and speakers. If you don't see anything interesting and feel that there would be sufficient interest in some matter to justify its own SIG then you are quite free to propose the creation of a group. Information is available from the web site and you should discuss your ideas with the NSW Branch office.
Chapters and SIGs are ways that the ACS can make itself more relevant to you, so the next time you start thinking "What does the ACS do for me?" you should start answering the question by looking at the smaller, broader, deeper picture.
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