REMINISCENCE - SOCIETIES

by BERNARD A HODSON

Around 1960, several Western computer professionals formed a society to discuss growing activity in IT, calling itself the Calgary Computer and Data Processing Society. The incorporated society, Professor John Peck as first president, met monthly. A similarly named society had been established in Eastern Canada, grouped in major cities. They wished to become a national society and asked Calgary to become associated with them. Calgary did not think, with 2000 miles separating, that much could be gained from a national society.

Two years later Western members finally agreed to merge. Terms included a member on the Board but, more importantly, that the next national conference be held out West, sceptically received in the East, who feared a financial disaster. Conferences, to this point, had been held in a University setting, averaging 225 participants. Finally agreement was reached.

Ken Marble, of Imperial Oil, was the Conference Chairman, with one of his staff designated Program Chairman, support being received from many other Alberta organisations. A non University setting, the Banff Springs Hotel, was chosen, much to the Easterner's concern.

Key speakers were invited to attract, one being Dr. Fano, pioneering time sharing research at MIT. Others of equal calibre accepted. Fare reimbursement but no fees were offered to invitees. NORAD was also asked to make a presentation. The rest of the program was by submission of papers.

Break even was 250. After conference announcement, registrations arrived by every post, reaching 650, the largest Canadian conference of its kind to that date. A threatened airline strike six weeks before the conference start was fortunately averted.

Rock hen was the main dish for the final banquet. The hotel could not find 650 Rock hens in the whole of Alberta, so it was agreed that the deprived unfortunates would have Alberta steaks instead, the best steaks in North America.

An overwhelming success, it forever changed computing conferences in Canada, and established Western Canada as major players.

The NORAD presentation outlined North American threat from the Soviet Union, and how defence was organised. This generated a confrontation between the Conference Committee and the attending Soviet Scientific Attache, who said that a protest would be made to the Canadian government, unless an apology was received. After an apology the matter was dropped. NORAD said later this was their 21st presentation and 9th protest, so much for the cold war.

Soon after there was a presidential election for the society where the only candidates well-known would likely be Easterners. This handicap was remedied by nominating a Westerner and circulating his profile. This infuriated the 'computing establishment', as elections were usually gentleman's agreement. The society eventually allowed a profile for every nominee. Calgary brought Western influence to bear on what traditionally had been dominated by Eastern groups, the society was never again the same.

The Society then tried to bring professionalism to IT practitioners, there being a need to inject some discipline into the profession. A no-cost study was led by Urwick Currie, a consulting firm. Their report indicated the feasibility but professionalism took a further twenty five years to implement. Eventually the Society changed its name to the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS).

Other IT groups were formed, several related to specific manufacturers such as Hewlett Packard. One such group was the Digital Equipment Computer Users, Canada, group, or DECUS. This had held a popular annual conference which then started to go down hill, with only around 50 or so attending the annual meeting. In this case it was decided, rather than close down, to abandon the Conference committee format, using a member of the society along with a member of the Digital Equipment Company. This rather dictatorial approach revived the organisation, attendance jumped to around 200, and the annual conference was saved.

There were several branches of United States organisations established, the chief ones being with the Association of Computing Machinery and the Data Processing Management Association. The former had a number of specialist sub-groups for topics of interest. In addition the International Federation of Information Processing Societies (IFIP) was active and Jim Finch, a Canadian, attained the position of Vice President, while other Canadians were actively involved with sub groups for languages and databases. Still others became involved with the International Standards Organisation (ISO).