Peter G. Neumann wins ACM SIGSOFT Service Award

Peter Neumann of SRI International was honored for his longstanding service to ACM SIGSOFT. Neumann is credited for creating the SIGSOFT Newsletter and is widely recognized for his Risks Forum. What follows is an interview Neuman provided for WOW.

Q. What was your reaction when you found out you would be receiving this award?

A. I was absolutely delighted. It is a real honor to be selected among all of the other folks who have made SIGSOFT successful and who have been toiling to make software engineering become more of a discipline.

Q. In your opinion, what stands out as the most personally rewarding part of your contributions over the years?

A. The opportunity to broaden the Software Engineering Notes (SEN) purview by encompassing systems, security, reliability, safety, and a deeper understanding of risks -- and to try to treat software engineering as part of a bigger picture rather than an end in itself. Many people have been affected by the persistent SEN coverage of risks to the public in the use of computers. That led me to create the comp.risks newsgroup, the CACM Inside Risks column, and the book (Computer-Related Risks, ACM Press/Addison-Wesley).

This has been a truly exciting roller-coaster ride -- with lots of ups and downs with respect to the technology and its (mis)uses. It also gives me an outlet for tweaking my readers a little, such as the "Only his only grammarian can only say what only he only means" piece (SEN 9, 1, January 1984, p.6) or my fully automated self-configuring highly dependable sundial (SEN 13, 4, October 1988, p.2), the Hyphen(h)ater's Handbook in RISKS-17.95 on e-mail vs. email, or some of the more outrageous puns in the on-line RISKS.

Q. What advice do you have for newcomers to our profession?

A. Keep a broad perspective on what you are doing, a sense of humility, and a sense of humor. If "software engineering" is the answer, what is the question? When you answer that, then think whether the answer might have included "system engineering." Don't learn just one programming language and one operating system. Learn the fundamentals (whatever they are). Read the literature so that you are more aware of all of the mistakes that have been made in the past. Read SEN, the Risks Forum (comp.risks), and by all means read my book (even if you have to borrow a copy)!

Q. What did you do to deserve this award?

A. I suppose I expended a lot of loyal, faithful, and persistent energy in grinding out SEN and the RISKS manifestations, largely in my spare time, for so many years. Perhaps I even had an influence on a few folks here and there. I am always delighted when someone remembers something I wrote years ago.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?

A. I am very grateful to the award's previous recipient, Tony Wasserman, who was the person who talked me into creating Software Engineering Notes. I am indebted to Adele Goldberg, who inspired the creation of the on-line Risks Forum. I am also grateful to Will Tracz for offering to relieve me as SEN Editor. Eighteen years was a lot of extra innings. Will is doing a marvelous job with SEN, and I enjoy the extent to which he puts himself into it. I hope he lasts as long as I did.