A New Chapter for the World’s Largest Technical Organisation

Tom Coughlin, IEEE’s new President and CEO, sat down with Mobile Magazine to discuss what the future holds for the IEEE and the wider technology landscape

Dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – known as IEEE – is the world’s largest technical professional organisation, with more than 420,000 members worldwide.

Respected digital storage analyst and business and technology consultant Tom Coughlin stepped into his new position of IEEE’s President and CEO on January 2024. 

With several patents to his name, Tom has spent more than four decades in data storage, across several engineering and management roles, talking to topics such as digital storage for consumer electronics and memory considerations for AI. 

He sat down with Mobile Magazine to discuss what the future holds for the IEEE and the wider technology landscape.

What is IEEE investing in and focussing on in 2024 and beyond? 

As the world's largest technical professional organisation, the IEEE is committed to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. This involves increasing public awareness of engineering and technology, promoting global innovation through member and partner collaboration and offering opportunities for professional development. 

In January, I assumed the role of volunteer President and CEO of the IEEE after being a member for 45 years. This one-year term presents exciting opportunities for positive change. Among my priorities is to drive investment in new products and services. For instance, by incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and other computer algorithms into IEEE content, we can introduce fresh approaches to discovering, understanding and advancing technologies.

We're also creating a new committee of IEEE members and relevant partners to educate future generations of workers, who will be using new technologies like AI and working in unique environments such as outer space or virtual realms. We should be able to use technical tools to customise learning experiences and to make continuous education more affordable. This way, we can ensure that individuals from underserved communities have access to and can benefit from technical education opportunities. 

Finally, we're focusing on improving our retention of young members and I have created a task force within IEEE to support this. Through research and pilot programmes, we will explore fresh approaches to attract and retain this important demographic. To maintain growth and energy within our community, we need to develop and nurture future leaders from our younger members.

Why is workplace culture essential to IEEE's developments? 

The IEEE offers a network of tech professionals and diverse benefits, enhancing both career and personal development. For me, this culture of continuous collaboration and networking has led to meaningful connections, job opportunities and upskilling in networking, leadership and communication. It has enriched my professional and personal life.

As our community evolves, it is important to maintain this supportive and inclusive culture, because this will resonate with the next generation of professionals. And, for the IEEE to stay at the forefront of technological advancements, it must stay relevant and continue to attract and retain top talent. Embracing diversity and promoting a culture of collaboration, development and support is a great way to achieve this.

Currently, there are many IEEE Student Members – but, as with many professional organisations, most don’t transition to full IEEE membership post-graduation. For the above reasons, we're keen on changing this pattern and increasing the number of conversions to higher grade members.  

We will focus on highlighting the value that the IEEE community provides to young professionals in both industry and academia. This will hopefully inspire more individuals to choose the IEEE as their preferred 'professional home'. We’re also strengthening ties with industry, where most of our student members find employment. As part of this initiative, I am actively engaging with senior technical professionals to stress the impact of the IEEE and the opportunities for making worldwide positive changes through the IEEE, especially for younger people.

What are the key challenges that the technology sector is facing currently, and what is IEEE prioritising in the near future in response? 

While automation has raised some concerns about job displacement, we are more likely to witness a shift in employee tasks towards using AI for augmented intelligence. AI is expected to complement human work rather than completely taking over, as it excels in pattern recognition and data gathering but lacks human judgement and critical thinking. As a result, we may see more jobs that leverage both AI and human intelligence.

Challenges regarding privacy and misinformation also persist, but technologies such as blockchain offers a promising solution by verifying data origins – extending its relevance beyond cryptocurrencies. There are pros and cons with any new technology development – but combining technologies like AI and blockchain could not only enhance efficiency and accuracy but also enrich the human experience. 

The IEEE is actively addressing these issues by prioritising initiatives for responsible and ethical adoption of technology, such as AI. For instance, it plays a crucial role in developing standards for emerging technologies, ensuring they are used in a way that balances the benefits with risks.

Technology offers opportunities for everyone to contribute to improving society and the world around us – but solving complex issues requires diverse perspectives from people of all backgrounds. This is where the IEEE and its community of brilliant minds truly stands out, facilitating collaboration and innovation to tackle today’s challenges effectively and fairly.

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