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Why I’m voting for Durrani for IEEE President-Elect

Tariq Durrani’s plans have some detail; Roberto de Marca’s have none. IEEE members should consider that when voting.

I’m normally underwhelmed by elections in the IEEE and IET for top positions. Candidate statements are normally in the abstract, rambling with volunteering CVs (they all look the same after a while) and scant on detail for what they actually plan to do. Every year I hope for an exception. This year, my hopes are no better off. But there is one presidential candidate who’s fallen into that trap slightly less.

The most telling contrast is between the position statements published on the candidates’ websites. Professor Turiq Durrani’s statement is noticeably more detailed than Dr Roberto de Marca’s. I don’t just mean longer. Compare, for example, their stances on industry engagement:

Tariq Durrani:

Offering professional engineers opportunities for enhancing their skills base through continuing professional development including management skills development, delivered through the invaluable IEEE e-learning Library, and expanding its content base. Support and extend globally IEEE-USA career enhancement initiative.

Roberto de Marca (emphasis in original):

Use my proven record of attracting industry participation to strengthen collaboration with Industry. This revitalized collaboration will lead to new benefits and services that will allow members everywhere to perceive IEEE as essential to their career development and professional success.

That’s just the first point of five in Prof Durrani’s statement, but it’s enough to illustrate the difference. From this, we know how Prof Durrani plans to engage industry. He has an initiative in mind (IEEE-USA career enhancement) to extend globally. He goes on to say he’ll establish an “International Panel of Chief Executive/Technology Officers” to advise on industry engagement.

This isn’t enough detail for my liking. But it’s a world more than what Dr de Marca gave. He asserted that it will “lead to new benefits and services”. What new benefits and services?  How will this collaboration be “revitalized”?  Am I supposed to believe that, because of his “proven record”, he has a plan in mind that he just doesn’t want to tell us?

It’s not just industry engagement. In the same statement, Dr de Marca says he’ll “strongly support initiatives that address humanitarian challenges”, but doesn’t say much more. Prof Durrani gives an action, to “establish strong alliances with global institutions” like UNESCO to deliver the humanitarian vision.

You can see the difference in mindset elsewhere, too. When the Institute asked the candidates for their “top two priorities”, Dr de Marca said one was to “develop benefits and services”. That’s not a priority—benefits and services is almost everything that IEEE does! Prof Durrani mentioned “continuing education and development” and “practitioner-oriented products”. You might disagree with his priorities. But at least we know he has some.

A harder question
I put a harder question to the candidates in the June Region 10 Newsletter (page 11):

How will you address the tension between the demand for IEEE to produce more member benefits, and the pressure for membership dues to remain low?

I wanted to see what the candidates could tell us about an issue they can’t control. Dr de Marca denied the tension exists, saying that IEEE has “enough revenues to increase member benefits” and that “it is just a question of priorities and political will”. Either this is a sore indictment on the current leadership, or he is implying that IEEE is currently prioritising the wrong things. It would have been nice to hear what.

Prof Durrani said that “all members should receive a certain level of benefits for the membership dues, then additional benefits can accrue based on a graded fee”, along with other details. Full disclosure: the answer I was looking for was an admission that individuals will need to pay the costs of some benefits, which Prof Durrani gave later in his answer. But what was more important to me was that Prof Durrani has obviously thought through this issue.

Hear this plea
If you’re an IEEE member and reading this, here’s my plea to you. Think carefully about your vote. Don’t just vote for someone because you met them in person once at a conference. That would be the wrong reason. Another wrong reason is finding a buzzword in their statements that turns you on.

The two candidates are both very well-accomplished and well-qualified, judging by their volunteering CVs. Both would make very competent presidents and I admire the dedication of them both. But we have to choose. The question we should ask ourselves is: In which candidate do we have more confidence that they’ll drive the IEEE forward, tackle the hard questions and invoke meaningful change?

You may ask that same question and come to a different conclusion to me. That’s fine, and I’d be intrigued to hear why. But statements with some particularity about plans evoke more confidence than statements dealing in abstract generic outcomes. That’s why my vote for IEEE President-Elect 2013 will go to Prof Durrani.

Disclosure: I’m currently vice-chair of IEEE GOLD New Zealand Central and I’ve never met either Prof Durrani or Dr de Marca and I’m not involved in either campaign (so not much of a disclosure, really).

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