Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cubans announce the formation of an IT professional society -- the Unión de Informáticos de Cuba (UIC)

There are differences between Cuba's IT professional society and the Association for Computing Machinery in the US.

The formation of the Unión de Informáticos de Cuba (UIC) was announced during a plenary session at the First National Workshop on Computerization and Cybersecurity in Havana. Over 7,500 computer professionals also watched via a teleconference (no mean feat in Cuba).

My first reaction upon hearing the news was "cool -- it's a professional society like our Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)," but after reading more I realize that there are differences between ACM and UIC, reflecting cultural/bureaucratic differences between the US and Cuba and the fact that ACM was established 68 years ago. Let's look at some of the differences.

The UIC was established by the Cuban Ministry of Communication, which also controls the Internet and telephone systems, while ACM was established at a meeting at Columbia University in 1947.

ACM is a professional society -- it's tagline is "advancing computing as a science and a profession" -- while UIC feels like a professional/political organization. As Yoani Sanchez points out, the membership application form asks for political affiliations like membership in the Communist Party or Young Communist Union. Can you imagine ACM asking whether a member is a Republican or Democrat?

The UIC membership application asks for political affiliations (red added).

People have to apply to be accepted into the UIC and they may be dropped for infractions like violation of the code of ethics. An applicant has to complete a form by July 15, attach a photo, copy of their diploma and a CV, then wait to see if the application is accepted. Bill Gates or Steve Jobs could not have applied and I am not sure if, say, a biologist who did computer modeling would be eligible.

One joins ACM by filling out the following form online and paying the first year dues.

Members are expected to have either a bachelor's degree, the equivalent level of education or two years full-time employment in the IT field, but no one checks up on this. There is also an optional profile in which one specifies professional specialties and interests, but the information is used for allocating ACM resources (and perhaps selling ads), not for screening applicants.

The UIC is a Cuban organization, open only to Cubans, while ACM is global, with chapters in 57 nations.

ACM has 138 active chapters

ACM reaches out to young people via student chapters on college campuses and, while UIC does not yet have student chapters, Cuba devotes significant resources to training potential computer users and professionals via a well-established system of Youth Computer Clubs (YCCs). The government established 32 YCCs in 1987 and today over 2.25 million kids and adults have completed courses (and played games) at 611 YCCs.

ACM offers concrete benefits including the monthly Communications of the ACM magazine, online access to articles, books, videos, webinars and courses and membership in over 170 special interest groups. ACM was formed in 1947 so they have had 68 years to organize and capitalize -- what will UIC be offering members 68 years from now?

Update 3/16/2016

The UIC convened in Havana. Ailyn Febles, vice provost of the University of Information Science, who was elected president reported that there were 6,000 members and 169 delegates from around the country signed the Code of Ethics, approved the statutes governing the UIC and listened to talks. The assembly was dedicated to Cuban technological visionary Fidel Castro's 90th birthday.

As discussed above, this does not feel much like the ACM.

Update 3/20/2017

The UIC will host their first International Cybersociety Congress during October 16-20, 2017 in Varadero, Cuba.

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