This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview “Top-ranking Innovator, Executive, Researcher, Thought Leader – Alain Chesnais, newly elected 2010/11 President ACM, founder Visual Transitions, past CTO SceneCaster.”
Alain Chesnais is the newly elected ACM president. He has more than 25 years of management experience in the software industry, with a focus on 3D technologies and social media. He recently founded Visual Transitions, which specializes in helping companies move to HTML 5 and expand their online offerings with web presences that fully embrace the possibilities that HTML 5 offers, such as web sockets, <audio> and <video> tags, as well as fully featured 3D capabilities through WebGL.
Formerly chief technology officer at SceneCaster, he served as director of engineering at Alias|Wavefront on the team that received an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for developing the Maya 3D software package. Prior to his election as ACM president, he was vice president from July 2008 – June 2010 as well as secretary/treasurer from July 2006 – June 2008. He also served as president of ACM SIGGRAPH (ACM’s Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques) from July 2002 – June 2005 and as SIG Governing Board Chair from July 2000 – June 2002.
As a French citizen now residing in Canada, he has made international expansion a priority for ACM during his term, with an emphasis on changes to the chapters program designed to increase ACM’s worldwide presence. First introduced to ACM through the annual SIGGRAPH conference more than 20 years ago, he joined the local SIGGRAPH chapter in Paris, and volunteered for a variety of responsibilities with SIGGRAPH and ACM through the years. As president, he plans to apply his experience with social networking sites to expand ACM’s online presence and facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among members. He is a self avowed geek who revels in new technologies. He loves to share what he discovers and plans to post relevant tidbits of what he discovers as ACM president on his blog on the www.acm.org web site.
He is a compulsive volunteer especially when it comes to helping promote the activities of the ACM and truly wants to share his passion for everything that the ACM does. He hopes that people who listen to this podcast will feel the passion that drives him and be moved to become active members of the ACM to help make a difference in the field of computer science.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link .
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Alain, congratulations on your election as President of the ACM.
“….Thank you. I’m honored that the members of the ACM chose to elect me as their president….”
Can you profile the ACM and what you wish to accomplish as President?
“….The ACM is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. We cover the promotion and dissemination of information about computer sciences to our members….Though headquartered in the US, we are an international organization and have been expanding our presence outside the United States over the past ten years. As president I plan to continue that effort….”
Alain talks about ACM’s very strong awards and recognition program.
What are the demographics of the ACM members?
“….We have a very strong dominance in terms of computer science researchers and academics and we have a large presence in terms of computing management – where we have definite room for growth is at the practitioner level….We are still way below the total reach that we could potentially have and there is great opportunity to spread out even more….”
A significant component of your association is the student base. Can you comment?
“…. Our goal is to introduce students to the ACM so that they can then become members of the ACM as they go into their professional careers….”
What are the major challenges facing the ACM today and how will the ACM work to solve them?
“….The original role of societies like the ACM was principally to allow for people of similar interests to be able to network and meet at conferences in order to stay abreast of changes in the field. The biggest challenge that I see for the ACM is staying abreast of changes in the way we deliver our services….”
What are the major opportunities facing the ACM and how will the ACM work to leverage them?
“….Internationalization is one of the key areas of opportunity for the ACM. We have already started by creating regional councils in Europe, India and China….The key thing is to try and see how can we spread our efforts throughout the world so that we actually do have a presence wherever computer science research is going on….”
What are ACM success stories?
“….The Digital Library….SIGs….our conferences…. our publications….”
How do we measure the ROI on research?
“….You can’t do research in isolation. You really have to build your research on top of what everybody else is doing. Providing a vehicle for getting the information and for meeting the people who are actually doing the research is how ACM provides the key value for our researchers. Plus we give them the ability to publish their results – our conferences and our journals are the vehicles by which they will share the results of their research….”
Please share your thoughts on the ACM Awards Banquet in San Francisco, and what this means to the ACM?
“….It’s the celebration of the achievements of key contributors to our field. It’s a way to promote their success and say thank you for the work they have done….”
Alain profiles his past, present and future roles with the ACM.
“….What will I do afterwards? After the presidency I stay on as past president for an extra term. After that, I will probably focus on elements that are dear to my heart, specifically the chapters program and the internationalization efforts….”
More generally, why are associations important and why should people contribute to them?
“….Associations are important because they serve as the conduit in a profession to help people cross company and university boundaries to work together to achieve a much greater goal….”
How does one get involved in the ACM?
“…There are many paths to join the association….Become a member of a Chapter to understand what’s actually happening and if you feel so driven, volunteer….Go to the ACM website www.acm.org…..The key thing is to actually participate….Go to ACM events….”
Alain describes his early and current research interests and what problems he is solving.
I started out modeling computer systems and focused on doing performance evaluations on massively distributed systems when I was doing my doctoral thesis. What my focus was then is totally different to what it has become since…..Most of the work I have done is in either computer graphics or web services. I’ve focused on the intersection of the two and most recently with the development of solutions aiming at providing high end graphics capabilities through the web…..”
Is the area of graphics evolving and why and how is this happening?
“….The major reason it’s evolving is because graphics have become commoditized….We have commoditized access to 3D technology, high end graphics capabilities and what’s missing now is the content and how to deliver it….I believe we are on the verge of a revolution here with the advent of WebGL coming into HTML 5….”
What are best practices in the area of graphics?
“….By building on standards, you’re putting a layer of abstraction between you and the processor and being able to build for the long term….First, you are achieving the flexibility and longevity of your software design and second, you’re ensuring the interoperation with other pieces of software because they will all be talking through the same API and to the same graphics format…”
What are some key lessons that you wish to pass on from all of your roles?
“….Never look at a problem in the way that seems the most straight forward….Try to think of the problem differently…..Try to understand what the end user is really trying to do….”
What do you consider to be your top 3 contributions?
“….IPR with Arnaud Hervas…Maya….Truespectra Image Server…..”
In your prior roles, what were the most difficult challenges that you were not able to overcome at that time? What would you do differently now?
“….Evaluating customer reaction….Trying to break new ground and anticipate the unknown….”
What are your top lessons for effective leadership?
“….Hire the best and listen to them….Build strong teams….Identify talent….”
What were the catalysts behind the formation of SceneCaster?
“….SceneCaster is a division of View22, a company that develops custom web based 3D applications for large companies. The Facebook API had just opened up and graphics capabilities even on the lowest cost computers had reached a point where we felt that 3D in the browser was finally a viable technique for mass market applications. SceneCaster was set up to go after that market….”
Alain describes his past role with SceneCaster.
“….I was brought in in June 2007 to take the existing technology offered by View22 and adapt it to social media, giving end users on Facebook the ability to easily create their own 3 dimensional spaces and share them with others on their social network….”
You are the founder of Visual Transitions. What is the focus on your company?
“….I believe that companies will be faced with a challenge of migrating their web offerings to fully embrace the capabilities that HTML 5 enables, and that’s what we do. We help companies prepare for the transition now….”
In your work with Visual Transitions, can you talk about the transition to HTML 5 and also to WebGL? What are the timelines?
“….IE9 will be the first version of Internet Explorer which will actually be HTML 5 compliant but all the other browsers (eg. Safari, Chrome, Firefox) are pretty much all implementing most of HTML 5 already. They don’t have full capability, specifically WebGL isn’t in there, web sockets aren’t fully implemented in all the browsers yet, but what we’re seeing is a gradual transition towards this richer application framework that is actually pretty amazing….”
Can you share more about the whole area of patents and patent application and ones that you are involved in?
“….One of the key things that we actually developed patents around SceneCaster was all the e-commerce capabilities….It was more on the business application than the actual technology….As a business person you need to be aware that you need to be building up a serious patent portfolio as soon as you go into any technology based business….”
If someone in the audience wants to apply for a patent, can you provide some information on the process and cost?
“….If it is something innovative which will bring some key value to your business you should be patenting it….The key thing is before you even publish anything about anything new you should check with your patent lawyer to make sure that you have already done the proper work to ensure you don’t lose your rights to be able to apply for a patent by publishing whatever it is you are publishing….”
What specific innovations amaze you?
“….Well designed and intuitive interfaces…..”
You choose the areas – provide your top predictions of future trends and their implications/opportunities?
“….Arrival of WebGL in the browser. It’s a game changer in terms of how you deliver 3D content to a massive amount of users that could never have been done as simply before….One of the things that I’m really excited about is the introduction of web sockets which allow my server to notify me when there is something of relevance and push data down the pipe to me so that it shows up on my webpage without my having to go and do periodic polling of the server….”
Which are your top recommended resources and why?
“….ACM conferences and publications….Demo camps….workshops….RSS feeds and feed aggregators like Google Reader (my personal preference) to get suggestions of articles that I would be interested in but don’t necessarily subscribe to…..”
Alain shares an interesting story from his work.
“….It was one of those instances where we presented something that was a flashy demo and it was taken to be much more than a flashy demo….”
I have a unique opportunity to drill into the accumulated wisdom from an accomplished executive, innovator, researcher, and thought leader. 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?
“….Always be curious and always ask questions….Keep an open mind as to how things are going and don’t do things the obvious way….Being successful as an entrepreneur is really about identifying how the user is going to use the product, what problem they are trying to solve, and solving it as efficiently and easily as possible. Make it really simple to use and you will have a successful product…..”
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?
“….ACM offers a code of ethics that all of our members are expected to respect. The existence of globally recognized credentials seems problematic to me given the breadth of subjects that computing covers today….”
If you were doing this interview, what questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?
“….’Where is the profession going?’….’What are the challenges coming?’….’How do you see the internationalization (specifically with ACM), going from what is largely a North American organization that is in its highest rate of growth, and will that be a problem and what does that do in terms of who we represent and who we are?’….”