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Oral-History:Ken Laker

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Ken Laker, Ph.D.: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, Ph.D., IEEE History Center, 13 February 2009  
 
Ken Laker, Ph.D.: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, Ph.D., IEEE History Center, 13 February 2009  
  
Interview #486 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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Interview #486 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
  
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
 
== Copyright Statement  ==
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This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
 
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
  
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
+
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
  
Ken Laker, an oral history conducted in 2009 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
+
Ken Laker, an oral history conducted in 2009 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.  
  
 
== Interview  ==
 
== Interview  ==
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'''Laker:'''  
 
'''Laker:'''  
  
Irv Engleson was the Staff Director of the Technical Activities Department. Staff Director is what they call it now, the position he had. I don't know what it was called then. I got to know Irv very well during that time. I also got to know some of the staff that supported [[IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB)|Technical Activities Board]] meetings. When Irv retired and became a volunteer on the Board of Directors he and I were already old friends. And I knew all his idiosyncrasies and ways to push his buttons, and he mine. No, but Irv is a great guy and I have always enjoyed working with him. He was very effective as a TAB Staff Director and also as a volunteer. He may have been a volunteer even before he was Staff Director. Eric Herz has enjoyed a distinguished IEEE career in leadership as both a volunteer and staff. I did not work directly with Eric in those days, I did so as IEEE President  
+
Irv Engleson was the Staff Director of the Technical Activities Department. Staff Director is what they call it now, the position he had. I don't know what it was called then. I got to know Irv very well during that time. I also got to know some of the staff that supported [[IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB)|Technical Activities Board]] meetings. When Irv retired and became a volunteer on the Board of Directors he and I were already old friends. And I knew all his idiosyncrasies and ways to push his buttons, and he mine. No, but Irv is a great guy and I have always enjoyed working with him. He was very effective as a TAB Staff Director and also as a volunteer. He may have been a volunteer even before he was Staff Director. [[Eric Herz]] has enjoyed a distinguished IEEE career in leadership as both a volunteer and staff. I did not work directly with Eric in those days, I did so as IEEE President  
  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
 
'''Hochheiser:'''  
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Quite a lot.  
 
Quite a lot.  
  
[[Category:People and organizations|Laker]] [[Category:Corporations|Laker]] [[Category:Engineers|Laker]] [[Category:Universities|Laker]] [[Category:Engineering profession|Laker]] [[Category:Engineering education|Laker]] [[Category:Information resources|Laker]] [[Category:Professional societies|Laker]] [[Category:IEEE|Laker]] [[Category:Conference activities|Laker]] [[Category:Educational activities|Laker]] [[Category:Geographical units|Laker]] [[Category:Chapters|Laker]] [[Category:Councils|Laker]] [[Category:IEEE-USA|Laker]] [[Category:Student branches|Laker]] [[Category:Subsections|Laker]] [[Category:Governance|Laker]] [[Category:Boards|Laker]] [[Category:Bylaws|Laker]] [[Category:Committees|Laker]] [[Category:Constitution|Laker]] [[Category:Facilities|Laker]] [[Category:Mission and vision|Laker]] [[Category:Nominations, elections & appointments|Laker]] [[Category:Policies & procedures|Laker]] [[Category:Staff|Laker]] [[Category:Historical activities|Laker]] [[Category:History & heritage|Laker]] [[Category:IEEE foundation|Laker]] [[Category:Publications|Laker]] [[Category:Technical units|Laker]] [[Category:Filtering|Laker]] [[Category:Active filters|Laker]] [[Category:Computers and information processing|Laker]] [[Category:Internet|Laker]] [[Category:Signals|Laker]] [[Category:Acoustics|Laker]] [[Category:Signal processing|Laker]] [[Category:Acoustic signal processing|Laker]]
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[[Category:People and organizations|Laker]] [[Category:Corporations|Laker]] [[Category:Engineers|Laker]] [[Category:Universities|Laker]] [[Category:Profession|Laker]] [[Category:Engineering education|Laker]] [[Category:Information resources|Laker]] [[Category:Professional societies|Laker]] [[Category:IEEE|Laker]] [[Category:Conference activities|Laker]] [[Category:Educational activities|Laker]] [[Category:Geographical units|Laker]] [[Category:Chapters|Laker]] [[Category:Councils|Laker]] [[Category:IEEE-USA|Laker]] [[Category:Student branches|Laker]] [[Category:Subsections|Laker]] [[Category:Governance|Laker]] [[Category:Boards|Laker]] [[Category:Bylaws|Laker]] [[Category:Committees|Laker]] [[Category:Constitution|Laker]] [[Category:Facilities|Laker]] [[Category:Mission and vision|Laker]] [[Category:Nominations, elections & appointments|Laker]] [[Category:Policies & procedures|Laker]] [[Category:Staff|Laker]] [[Category:Historical activities|Laker]] [[Category:History & heritage|Laker]] [[Category:IEEE foundation|Laker]] [[Category:Publications|Laker]] [[Category:Technical units|Laker]] [[Category:Filtering|Laker]] [[Category:Active filters|Laker]] [[Category:Computing and electronics|Laker]] [[Category:Internet|Laker]] [[Category:Signals|Laker]] [[Category:Acoustics|Laker]] [[Category:Signal processing|Laker]] [[Category:Acoustic signal processing|Laker]]

Latest revision as of 20:13, 23 July 2014

Contents

About Ken Laker

Kenneth R. Laker received the B.E. degree in electrical engineering from Manhattan College, Riverdale, NY, in 1968 and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from New York University in 1970 and 1973, respectively. He spent the first part of his career at Bell Labs, before moving to the University of Pennsylvania in 1984 as chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering. He has been at Penn since then; currently, he is a professor of Electrical Engineering. He was a member of the founding Board of Directors of AANetcom, Allentown, PA, until its sale to PMC-Sierra in 2000. He was cofounder, President, and CEO of DFT MicroSystems. His work in microelectronic filters has contributed four textbooks, more than 90 scientific articles, and six patents.

The awards he has received include the 1994 AT&T Clinton Davisson Trophy for his patent in switched capacitor circuits and the 1998 IEEE Circuits and Systems Darlington Award for the paper “Integrated Circuit Testing for Quality Assurance in Manufacturing: History, Current Status, and Future Trends,” which was published in IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems—II: Analog and Digital Signal Processing (August 1997). He has served the IEEE in numerous leadership positions, including IEEE President in 1999, and as Chair of the Foundation’s Trustees of the IEEE History Center.

The interview focuses on his involvement in IEEE, culminating in his Presidency. He discusses his then-innovative use of the Internet for during his campaign. The interview also touches on his career at Bell Labs and the University of Pennsylvania, and the impact IEEE membership has had on that career.

About the Interview

Ken Laker, Ph.D.: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, Ph.D., IEEE History Center, 13 February 2009

Interview #486 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Ken Laker, an oral history conducted in 2009 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Ken Laker, Ph.D.

INTERVIEWER: Sheldon Hochheiser, Ph.D.

DATE: 13 February 2009

PLACE: Philadelphia, PA

Background and Education

Hochheiser:

I'm here with Professor and Past IEEE President Ken Laker. Good afternoon.

Laker:

Good afternoon to you.

Hochheiser:

Thank you. I would like to ask you about a variety of things going through your life and career but concentrating on your work as a volunteer leader for IEEE. Perhaps we could start at the beginning. Would you tell me a little bit about your background, where you were born and raised and what your parents did?

Laker:

I was born in Newburg, New York in September 1946. My father was a career military person. He served during World War II in the Army Air Force, and then went into the Air Force. He passed away when I was 13. We traveled a lot. I lived in Japan, Savannah, Georgia, Wichita Falls, Texas and then after my father passed away we moved to where he and my mother grew up near Highland Falls, New York, near West Point. That is where I lived until I went to college. I went to Manhattan College and got my Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. I met my wife and we got married at the end of my four years. I was also in the Air Force ROTC. I was commissioned and then got an educational delay to go to graduate school. I spent the Vietnam War largely in graduate school.

Hochheiser:

Let's back up just a little bit. Were you interested in science and technology as a youngster?

Laker:

Yes. The courses I enjoyed most were mathematics and science. I learned to be a ham operator, though I never took the exam. Most electrical engineers sort of got started in electrical engineering through ham radio. Nowadays it's computers.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

Whereas math and science were my favorite courses, English and foreign languages were my least favorite. Looking at the engineering curriculum enabled me to maximize what I enjoyed and minimize what I didn’t; I guess that was part of it. I guess was always oriented towards engineering. I had also heard at that time that it was a good career so, at that time.

Hochheiser:

Did you enter Manhattan College planning to major in engineering?

Laker:

Yes. I entered majoring in electrical engineering.

Hochheiser:

Specifically in electrical engineering?

Laker:

Specifically.

Hochheiser:

How did you come to choose Manhattan College?

Laker:

I heard it was a good school and it was not far from home. I was accepted at Syracuse and Manhattan College and decided to go to Manhattan College. Since that was where I met my wife, I suppose that was the way it should have been.

Hochheiser:

Wasn't Manhattan College all men at the time?

Laker:

Yes. My wife went to Mary Mount Manhattan College, which was all female at that time. We met at what we used to call a mixer, where young men and women mixed. And we mixed. Three years later we were married, and here we are. We just celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary June 1st, 2008. Our oldest son and his wife gave us our first grandchild, so we're very happy.

Hochheiser:

How did you come to choose NYU for your graduate work?

Laker:

It was local. My wife is from New York, and I was going to school in New York. She had taken a job with the federal government in New York. Therefore staying New York was important. It worked out very well for me. I was intending to be a pilot. I grew up in the Air Force and had wanted to be a pilot all my life. I only gave it up because I got hooked on research as a Ph.D. student. Ultimately I finished my Ph.D. — spent four years at the Air Force Cambridge Research Labs near Boston, Massachusetts.

Hochheiser:

What did you do your dissertation on at NYU?

Laker:

My dissertation was on active filters. These were circuits that performed the function of electronic filters. They are active filters based on circuits that use transistors and transistor circuits in place of inductors. It was a hot topic at the time and even when I finished my four years in the Air Force and went to Bell Labs was able to continue work in my thesis area. In fact they brought me there because they liked my research in active filters and were making use of it.

Joining IEEE

Hochheiser:

When did you first join IEEE?

Laker:

As an undergraduate student. I graduated in '68 so it may have been 1967, something like that.

Hochheiser:

What led you to join at the time?

Laker:

It sounded like a good thing to do, and the faculty encouraged us to do it. There is much more motivation for graduate students to join IEEE because of the journals. They are going to the conferences and publishing. There is less motivation, or it's a little harder to show the motivation, to undergraduate students who are not yet at a stage where they are reading the journals. As a graduate student, when I went to my first IEEE conference I gave a paper. It was the IEEE Circuits and Systems Symposium in 1973. That was one of the more exciting moments in my early career.

Hochheiser:

Was there a student chapter at Manhattan or NYU?

Laker:

I don't remember. There may have been.

Hochheiser:

You were not active?

Laker:

I was not active in it.

Finishing Ph.D. at NYU

Hochheiser:

Who did you do most of your work with or who were the notable professors that you had during your education?

Laker:

My advisor was a very notable person. Mohammed Ghausi. We wrote two books together afterwards. He went from NYU to the National Science Foundation and he was a Dean at the University of California in Davis when he retired. He was a very prominent and highly respected Dean, and he was a terrific advisor. He continued to mentor me. We actually mentored each other to some degree as we got older, but clearly he was my mentor and I owe him a great deal.

Hochheiser:

Your commitment to the Air Force was delayed or held while you went through your university education.

Laker:

That's correct. The educational delay meant I went on reserve. I was commissioned as a second lieutenant while doing my graduate study. I got a letter, "You've been promoted to first lieutenant." Therefore when I entered active duty I was a first lieutenant.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

I had a commitment to finish my Ph.D. studies in June of 1973. I knew that before I started. That was very difficult. A Ph.D. is not something one just gets in four years.

Hochheiser:

I know.

Laker:

The timing was like trying to time a breakthrough. I was very fortunate that everything came together. During that same period our first two sons were born, so it was a very interesting four years at NYU. That was in the Heights. 1973 was also the last year that there was a graduate program or any program in engineering at NYU. The Heights campus was sold.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

Engineering merged with Brooklyn Poly to form the Polytechnic Institute of New York. That was another reason to finish in 1973. Fortunately I already had that deadline implanted by the Air Force commitment.

The Air Force and Microwave Acoustics

Hochheiser:

Then the Air Force sent you up to Massachusetts?

Laker:

That is correct — to a research lab. It was probably one of the more developmental periods of my career. In most all cases a person who gets a Ph.D. degree gets hired by a company for what one has done in one's thesis. Therefore one goes there to continue in some fashion what one did in the thesis. When I went into the Air Force they put me in something so different I didn't even know what it was at the time. The initial discomfort I felt in how I would fit in was enormous. The area was surface acoustic wave devices or microwave acoustics. I had no idea what I was doing there. I thought of acoustics as sound that I heard. Microwave acoustics are sound that you don't hear. Ultrasound. It was a brand new area, which I didn't appreciate until I was there. This was 1973 and the device had been invented in 1969. Lots of applications were emerging both in the commercial world and in the military world.

I was with an outstanding group that was dominated by physicists. They couldn't initially figure out how I would fit in either, because I was not one of them. However, after a few months I realized that they were trying to do signal processing, which was what I did in active filters. I understand that. They understood the physics of the devices but didn't understand how to make them do really efficient signal processing. Once we figured that out, a marriage was made and we did a lot of really good work and published several of exciting papers.

Hochheiser:

The Air Force permitted you to publish these things?

Laker:

Oh yes. I took pride in the fact that I never knew any secrets. I tried not to know any secrets. Part of the prominence of the lab was gained by publications, so in many respects it was a research facility and almost like a university without students in the sense one could publish almost everything one did. We were encouraged to publish.

Involvement in IEEE Societies

Hochheiser:

Did you continue involvement with IEEE during your years in Boston?

Laker:

Oh yes. I became active in the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society and was Chair of their Boston chapter. That was my first volunteer role in the IEEE. I was Secretary, then Vice Chair and then Chair. Then I got involved with the IEEE International Conference on Circuits and Systems and was on the Steering Committee of the conference that occurred in New York City after I left to join Bell Labs. Then I ran for the Administrative Committee of the Circuit Systems Society. I won the election. Then I became its Secretary-Treasurer and then its President.

Hochheiser:

What does the local chapter of a Society do and what does the head of the local chapter do?

Laker:

The local chapter develops activities for the Society members in the area. These activities are usually seminars by prominent people. They invite speakers. The IEEE Societies' Distinguished Lecturer Program was developed to feed distinguished lecturers from the Societies to the chapters. Thus, we got some of them. However, Boston being a rich university town, we didn't have to necessarily look too far to get distinguished speakers.

I was also involved with the Sonics and Ultrasonics Society. I think it's called Frequency Control Society now. Back then it was largely dominated by physical acoustics areas, surface acoustic wave devices. I don't recall whether I had any formal position, but I was very active in the sense that I went to all the meetings, because that was my work. At this time Circuits and Systems was like a hobby to me in terms of my professional activities. Circuits and Systems was the work that I did as a graduate student which I did with my advisor and continued by working with his students and postdocs. I also worked on that with colleagues I met who were interested in active filters. An individual by the name of Ralph Schaumann, who was then a Professor at the University of Minnesota, and I worked together for several years. He is a co-author of my third book.

Then when I went to Bell Labs they were more interested in my active filter work. A new area was emerging in the field called switch capacitor circuits which was largely developed at Berkeley. Like many other companies, we got into it, and it launched a whole new area of really exciting activity for me. That lasted in fact well after I came to Penn.

Hochheiser:

While you were in Boston were you able to attend national as well as local conferences?

Laker:

Oh yes. Of course I went to the International Symposium on Sonics and Ultrasonics every year. I always had a paper to present there due to my work at the Labs. I had two or three or more papers at the IEEE Circuits and Systems Symposium every year as well. I also went to the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Conferences. I was very active in both Societies. That was really what launched me into my volunteer activities. The Societies were valuable to me and my development in my career.

Hochheiser:

At this relatively early stage in your career did you see much of the overall umbrella of IEEE or was it mainly through the Societies?

Laker:

Mainly through the Societies. Once in a while I would see the President of the IEEE, whom I would look at in awe. This was also true of the President of the Society when I first joined. When I went to my first meeting in Toronto in '73, the Circuits and Systems Conference, I had been reading all these papers and I knew the names of all the major figures. During my attendance at the conference my advisor introduced me to just about all of them. Meeting them was thrilling. I never thought I would become friends with those people, but it only took a few years before that actually happened. I became friends and colleagues with people I respected very highly while I was a student. I continued to feel this way about them, but now we were peers rather than my looking at them as above me. That was an exciting transition.

Hochheiser:

Was that through the IEEE conferences you attended?

Laker:

That's correct.

Hochheiser:

Did you stay up in Boston with the Air Force until you completed your commitment to them?

Laker:

Yes.

Bell Labs

Hochheiser:

How did you come to go from there to Bell Labs?

Laker:

Before I went into the Air Force the Vietnam War was actually starting to wind down, so I thought that I might not have to go and I interviewed with a few companies. They were letting out a number of people. The job I got at the Air Force Cambridge Research Labs was vacated by a physicist. The Bell Labs people were interested in my work and were very good to me when I went there, so I kept in touch with them, since they also went to the Circuits and Systems Conferences. The monitored me and I monitored them, and when they learned I was nearing the finish of my Air Force commitment they invited me to come and visit. I didn't submit a resume. I didn't do anything. They just invited me to come visit, and it was a very gratifying meeting. When I got back I gave seminars on my works in both active filters and the surface acoustic wave devices. The department head referred to my visit as a homecoming. How could I not go?

Hochheiser:

I know.

Laker:

They also gave me a very good salary. I looked at universities at that time. I got some offers as an Assistant Professor, but my wife was already in her career with U.S. Customs in New York City. There was really no way that she could move her career near the locations of any of the universities I interviewed with. Therefore we decided to stay in the New York area and Holmdel, New Jersey was the New York area.

Hochheiser:

That's right.

Laker:

Everything fit together. I can't say I would not still be there if it wasn't for the breakup of the Bell System.

Hochheiser:

I know very well. I was at AT&T for sixteen years.

Laker:

Okay. I enjoyed my work there very much, and I'm still close to a number of people that I worked with back then, including my former department head.

Hochheiser:

Who was that?

Laker:

Carl Simone. Many of them are still in the Holmdel area and we try to get together at least once a year for little reunions. There are a lot of very warm and tremendous feelings about the experience we had at Bell Labs. I was there just a little over eight years.

Hochheiser:

I noticed that the last position that you held in Holmdel was a position doing work for the RBOCs [regional Bell operating companies] to be.

Laker:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Was that by choice or assignment?

Laker:

It was by choice. It looked at the time like the opportunity to sort of continue in an applied research role. There was a lot of excitement about this new organization [being] started. I got to go in and help put it together. They asked for volunteers and I knew some of the people who were already in leadership capacity there so I talked with them and decided to make that change. At the same time I was interviewing here at Penn. The opportunity came where a prominent member of the Penn Electrical Engineering faculty asked me, "We are looking for a full Professor and Department Chairman. Are you interested?" I said, "Sure." I told him and I had no idea where it was going to end or how long it was going to take to get wherever it ended.

I told my prospective Bellcore management about my involvement with Penn and told them that, "If you don't think that you want me under those circumstances, I understand." However they told me that was no problem and ultimately the Penn Search Committee landed on me. Joe Bordogna, who preceded me as President of the IEEE, was Dean. He was the one who hired me. We had been very close and good friends over the years, and that really helped us a lot in our IEEE roles. The dynamic of our relationship at Penn was an asset in our relationship as IEEE Presidents.

University of Pennsylvania

Hochheiser:

Penn came and approached you about your interest in the job rather than you actively seeking a position because of the turmoil involved with the divestiture.

Laker:

Yes. It started before that actually.

Hochheiser:

Ah.

Laker:

It just happened that as it was evolving, but no, I was not looking. I'm always open to new opportunities. My position has always been, "If you can make me an offer I can't refuse, I won't." I was open to it. I did not know where it was going. We were not very mobile, again because of my wife's position. In addition, her mother had come to live with us and there was a limit to how far we could take her. We were concerned whether even Philadelphia would be all right. We live in Bucks County, so it's not bad. It all worked out well. Our youngest child was only three years old when we came here. My wife then left Customs so she could spend full time with the family and her mother, It was only two years ago that she went back to her old job. Exactly her old job, but at a higher grade and pay rate.

Hochheiser:

It's wonderful if you can do that. Over the years there certainly has been a fair movement of people between Bells Labs and academics.

Laker:

I was one of the first. The people I knew were very prominent. I went to Penn as a Full Professor and Department Chairman, so I bypassed tenure. Being Department Chairman, I was then having to counsel young Assistant Professors through tenure, and they knew and I knew I never went through it. I at times almost felt like I cheated the system. However, the best way to go up the ladder in the university was the way I went.

Hochheiser:

I find it interesting that the university was interested in hiring you not only as a Full Professor but also as a Department Chair when you were coming out of a very different background.

Laker:

There was an Advisory Council the department had that was made up of leaders in industry and academe. Somehow the collective mind of that Advisory Council was to counsel the Dean to try to find someone appropriate from industry, so there was a predisposition at that time to do something like that. I was not aware of that at the time, by the way. I learned it afterwards.

Circuits & Systems Society and TAB

Hochheiser:

I noticed that while you were at Bell Labs you became quite active in the Circuits and Systems Society, with you being the President of the Society in '83.

Laker:

That's correct.

Hochheiser:

Would you talk a little bit about your activities as a leader of the national Society?

Laker:

It was an extremely interesting and very gratifying experience. What I tell everyone who gets elected is, "Do what you enjoy and make an impact. I believe there is no reason why those two cannot be simultaneous. Don't get bogged down in politics and those kinds of things." At the time we were starting a couple of new Transactions journals and we were also in a bit of a turf battle with the Computer Society over Computer-Aided Design. I worked with the then-President of the Computer Society, Oscar Garcia. He and I worked very closely to work things out in a way that was basically a 50/50. Being an analog person, a zero is not acceptable. I may not be able to get a one, but a half is better than zero.

IEEE Societies do not change very easily. New ones are rarely created and their directions are slow to change. Therefore new areas emerge that fall between Societies. The healthiest way to deal with that is for Societies to work together rather than fight over it. When fighting over turf nothing gets accomplished until all the fighting is finished and it is decided to whom the new area belongs. To avert that I decided it was best for the Circuits and Systems Society to solve it in a way that would be best for both Societies. We created two conferences and a new journal. Then I got involved with running one of the conferences. It was the International Conference on Computer Design. Those are the things I remember most from my Presidency in the Circuits and Systems Society. The Circuits and Systems Society has a one-year presidency.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

Fortunately my predecessor was Bede Liu from Princeton. When I became President-Elect I said to Bede, "I'd like to really start my presidency now. I'd like to get started so that when I really become President I can hit the road running." Therefore I went to all the IEEE Technical Activities Board meetings as President-Elect. No Circuits and Systems Society President-Elect had ever done that before. I got myself positioned so that I was very comfortable at all the upper-level IEEE meetings I had to attend. In addition, Bede enabled me to start some activities as President-Elect that I would continue as President. I actually therefore had somewhat of the experience of a two-year term, although Bede was President one year and I was not. However he enabled me to sort of extend my term a little bit backwards so that I could do more as President. Being that IEEE President is also a one-year term, but I was very well acquainted with one-year terms.

Hochheiser:

Was Bell Labs supportive of your volunteer activities in the IEEE?

Laker:

Yes. Absolutely.

Hochheiser:

Did they release time or provide staff support?

Laker:

I was in a management position, so I had secretarial support. Bell Labs was very good about sending their technical people to conferences. The meetings of the IEEE Societies are usually at their major IEEE conferences. If I was going to the conference and presenting a paper I was already there. Then I would go to the AdCom meeting. That was not a hardship at all and required very little out of the normal travel that Bell Labs traditionally supplied their technical people.

Hochheiser:

When you first went to Technical Activities Board (TAB) meetings was that also the first time you were involved with overall IEEE activities?

Laker:

That was my first experience.

Hochheiser:

I assume it must have been a good experience.

Laker:

That TAB meetings are easily overwhelming, and there are so many people. It is a huge body. When I would tell people from corporate boards the size of the IEEE Technical Activities Board, it's almost unbelievable to them. There are fifty people at those meetings. And these Society Presidents are all prominent technical leaders in their field, so it's an exciting thing. I knew some of them because of my involvement with the Sonics and Ultrasonics Society. I knew all the Presidents of that Society, and the Solid-State Circuits Society, which at that time was a Council. Then I'd meet others. That part of it was interesting. The Presidents’ Forum was a smaller meeting than I think it is today, and less contentious. The Presidents’ Forum was then chaired by Dick Emberson. I was very honored to subsequently receive the award that is named after Dick.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

I worked with Dick. He ran the President's Forum when I was Circuits and Systems Society President. His way of running it was like this. We would go into a room and there would be chairs. He'd ask us to put the chairs in a circle. He would sit in the middle, and we would just talk. If things were going well, if things weren't going well, we would talk about it. We would share issues and how our Societies were dealing with them. Maybe another Society had experienced the same problem and had done something about it and would share that. It was a very easygoing but informative meeting. It got much more formal in subsequent years, which sometimes is not so good.

Bell Labs and Education

Hochheiser:

Did you arrive at Penn in the fall of '84?

Laker:

It was November of '84.

Hochheiser:

How big of a change was this from your previous experience?

Laker:

Oh, it was a bigger change than I expected. In industry if you are managing people of course they have to listen to you because you're the boss and you determine their salaries and assignments. I always thought of myself as being pretty logical. If I thought something was good for everyone, usually it worked that way. When I came to a university it was different. Everyone has his or her own ideas, and it's not easy to get people motivated towards doing something else. Therefore it takes a lot more work. It is actually closer to being President of an IEEE Society. I've often said that my best preparation for coming to Penn as Department Chairman was being President of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society.

Hochheiser:

I guess another big change was involvement in teaching.

Laker:

I had been teaching at Bell Labs.

Hochheiser:

Ah.

Laker:

In the job that I had we were putting new technology in place. I thought it was very exciting. Every five years we went into a new thing. We were encouraged to find the best ways to use technology for the Bell System. We would first come up with some research directed at solving a set of problems. Then we would solve the problems, create the technology and then go around to the appropriate parts of the Bell System to teach them how to use it. At the same time I was doing some short course teaching. The only difference in teaching here is that the courses are longer. At Bell Labs I would spend a week at a location teaching the subject matter and whereas at the university it's a semester. I had also spent a lot of time recruiting at universities. We had a couple of meetings a year at Berkeley to share ideas and work. I collaborated with several people from universities even when I was at Bell Labs. Therefore that part was not difficult. I always had a mindset that I would like to eventually go to a university. I didn't know when it would be, but it was in my mind. If I had stayed at Bell Labs long enough and if nothing had changed as it did at Bell Labs, it might never have happened.

Hochheiser:

Considering the history of Bell Labs in the years after you left it might have happened anyway.

Laker:

I think a lot of people who were there have a lot of mixed feelings about all that because of the prominence and national resource Bell Labs represented.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Laker:

Maybe it was also an international resource. I have often said that the alumni of Bell Labs is larger than the alumni of any university in the world. Many former Bell engineers and scientists went out to universities. Many of the people I have respected in my field, when I look back on their careers, I found that they spent part of it at Bell Labs.

Division I Directorship

Hochheiser:

I get the impression that during your first years here you had less time for IEEE activities. Is that correct?

Laker:

That's correct. I was coming as a new Department Chairman and I had decided that I needed to focus on doing it well. I also wanted to send a message to the faculty that I was focusing on it, because there was some uncertainty, particularly with my non-traditional background. It was eight years before I really got back involved with IEEE in any serious way.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Laker:

It was after I finished doing two terms as Department Chair, which were a five-year term and a three-year term. Rick Dill was finishing up his term as the Division One Director, Circuits and Systems. He was a former Electron Devices President and I got to know him very well when I was Circuits and Systems Society President. This reminds me of another development. Rick and I schemed together to create the first Division magazine, Circuits and Devices. It was the first of its kind. IEEE Technical Activities was being reorganized in '83, so we took it upon ourselves to make a cohesive Division I out of Circuits and Devices. He and I together built the then new Division. We went to all the Society AdComs to get them on board and we promised we would create this Division magazine. It is still being published, but no longer as a Division magazine. The purpose of it was to bring the exciting new developments in our respective technologies in the Division I Societies to students, because undergraduate students in particular can't read those journals. We gleaned to get the best authors, and the papers were edited making sure that they were readable, and it was supported by all the Societies for several years.

Hochheiser:

As the players who worked together to put the pieces together have moved on to other things.

Laker:

That's right. That's what happens. In IEEE every one or two years everything changes, and people have their own ideas of what they want to do. Sometimes that means undoing things that were done before in the past. Whether one likes it or not, that's the nature of it. Let me get back to the Division I Director. Rick Dill was serving the last couple off months of his two year term, and I guess part of his obligation was to find someone to succeed him. He called me and asked me if I would run, and since I was completing my second term as Chair of the Department at Penn, so I agreed to run. I did not know whether I would succeed in being elected, because it had been eight years since I had been involved with IEEE. Division Directors are usually former Presidents that recently finished being President maybe one or two years before. For me it was eight years. Therefore I had no idea whether I had a much of a chance at being elected, but I ran and won the election.

Hochheiser:

Was it a contested election?

Laker:

Yes it was, though I don't remember the name of my opponent. They are obliged to be contested elections. There probably was one other candidate. I don't think there were any more than that.

Hochheiser:

Did you then have to actively campaign?

Laker:

No, I never actively campaigned. Except for IEEE President, which was more work.

Hochheiser:

We'll get to that in a little bit.

Laker:

No, I didn't how to campaign, so I didn't. You know, I had friends and told people, "I'm running for Division I Director," and that was pretty much it. Some people knew. Whether they spread it around or not I don't know, but I won the election and then I started to see what the IEEE looks like at a higher level.

Hochheiser:

And what did you find?

Laker:

Initially I was in awe. I didn't have the opportunity to be a Division Director Elect — which they do now, by the way.

Hochheiser:

But which was not what was done back in the early '90s.

Laker:

No. I mean, if one is at a level in his or her career experience that is appropriate for an IEEE Board level position, it doesn't take a lot of training to get going — maybe one meeting to get acclimated. We used to have a Division Directors Forum. They asked me, "What do you want to achieve?" I wasn't sure, but as I said earlier, "I want to have impact, but I want to enjoy it." I remarked at my first Division Directors Forum, "The closer this Division Director job gets to having the same stress as my pay job, then I better start getting paid." Part of everything I had done was to try to reduce the stress on myself and those who worked with me. I believe that IEEE volunteer jobs should be fun. People should do what they enjoy and make a difference.

Hochheiser:

What did you do as Division One Director to make a difference?

Laker:

An important role of the Division Director is to communicate to the Societies what the Board of Directors is doing. Therefore Division Directors attend the Society AdCom meetings in their Division, at least one meeting, during the two years. When I started my term, that first challenge that I had was over Circuits and Devices magazine. Societies wanted to drop out of supporting it because it was viewed as being too costly. I argued its importance to the Division’s membership, why it was started, what the vision was and why it should be important to them, and then tried to find a way to enable them to continue to participate in it. We succeeded in finding a suitable compromise. I don't remember the exact solution, but we found a way to enable that magazine to go forward as a Division magazine.

I got involved with the early stages of modernizing IEEE operations around networked computers and the Internet. We used laptops at the Board meetings and looked for opportunities to use our technology more efficiently to run the Institute. I chaired the first IEEE Board committee in this new area, the Electronic Services Steering Committee (ESSC). Fred Andrews was on that committee. Fred and I both came on the IEEE Board as Division Directors at the same time. There were also Friedholf Smitz, Rick Dill, Helen Wood and Jan Brown, to name just a few people who were very much involved with ESSC at the front end. The work of ESSC led us many developments that foresaw the Internet and Web-based operations of the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

That began around '93.

Laker:

Yes. That was the very first committee to look at all these issues — one by one. At first the committee focused enabling the BOD to work better. All the documents the BOD had to deal with, particularly BOD Meeting agenda books were huge. It was so much more efficient to put them all on disk. There was no Internet at that time to put them online.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

During that year or the year after the Board ultimately approved the purchase of laptops for the BOD members. All of the laptops were used at meetings in a network configuration. Paul Chung created a piece of software that very efficiently collected all the necessary documents. He was involved with regional activities. The software he developed spread around the Institute, so we made use of it. We then began to address issues regarding the transition to computerizing membership renewal. This transition was challenging. I don't remember all the issues that evolved with that, but ultimately led to some very strong disapproval from the membership. Many IEEE volunteers and staff were involved with remedying the issues of the time and ultimately realizing a robust system.

Vice Presidency of Educational Activities

Hochheiser:

I see you were on about six different things at once in IEEE during the '90s.

Laker:

Could you remind me what they were?

Hochheiser:

[Your membership record] says you a member of the Technical Activities Board?

Laker:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

The Educational Activities Board, and you were Vice President for Educational Activities at one time?

Laker:

Yes. That was right after my two years as Division I Director.

Hochheiser:

You moved from being Division I Director to being Vice President?

Laker:

At the time I was a Division Director all of us were asked to serve as BOD liaisons to one or two of the major Boards. There were Division Director representatives on these different Boards, and I was asked which ones I wanted to be. One that I specifically chose was the Educational Activities Board (EAB). I said, "I'll work where there is a need," and so I was asked to serve on was then called the U.S. Activities Board (USAB) as well. I got deeply interested in the work of EAB, particularly continuing education. I also got involved at that time with writing the first IEEE strategic plan. I wrote the strategic plan for education. I was also involved with the IEEE strategic plan for the Internet. It turned out there was a need for someone to write it, so I wrote it. I directed the Education component towards continuing education.

I decided that I could best help the IEEE realize the education goals by being the Vice President of Educational Activities, so I ran for it. Those elections were not member-wide. There is an Assembly that includes all of the Board of Directors, the President Elect, President, Past President and maybe one or two others. They elect the Vice Presidents. I ran for Vice President of Educational Activities against one opponent, and I was elected. Back then Vice Presidents generally served two years in two one year terms. At the time I was elected the Educational Activities Board was sort of in trouble.

Hochheiser:

Why?

Laker:

There were a number of people, particularly BOD members, that felt EAB was  ineffective and irrelevant. The volunteers and staff were doing mostly accreditation work and it was during a period when the volunteer IEEE leadership were worried about finances. I remember one of the prominent EAB members, who later became its Vice President, reported to me, "They're talking about getting rid of us." I said, "That's fine. What we're doing is important. I think we all believe the direction we are taking with continuing education is important. Let’s then get on with it. If they want to throw us out, let it be. My wife will be happier." I said, "Let's just do our thing and not worry about that stuff. From now on I don't want to hear anymore about that. Let's move on with the important work that we have set out to do and let the chips fall where they may."

That attitude changed. At the end of my two-year term we won a grant for nearly $500,000 from the Sloan Foundation to go forward with a Career Education Program. We did Industry 2000. We were promoting the value of continuing education and continued professional development with industry. We had started to work with IEE in some of these areas.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

The IEE was putting in place a continuing education program that would be a requirement to continue getting chartered or licensed. We used this experience to put in place a system to support the US state-wide continued professional development requirements to maintain a professional engineering license in the United States. We tried to create a new membership path for working engineers and consultants based on achieving a certain high level of continuing education achievement. It was a path for these IEEE members to achieve a high membership status while taking initiatives to enhance their careers. The Academy of General Dentistry that does this for dentists, and we were considering the use of this academy as a model for the IEEE. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there was a lot of opposition to it and it didn't go anywhere.

Hochheiser:

Would you talk a little bit about the grant from the Sloan Foundation? What was it for specifically?

Laker:

The idea actually started with students who graduate with degrees in physics and chemistry. When a student earns a Bachelor's of Science degree in Physics for instance, no one considers him or her to be a physicist. Unless and one aspires to teach high school physics one is not going to do physics with only a bachelors degree. So the career question was, "What career options are suited to graduates with a physics bacheloriate degree?" The Sloan Foundation observed this need and put resources to develop tools to address it through the relevant professional associations. They subsequently expanded this program to engineering students, although their career paths were somewhat clearer. IEEE Educational Department prepared a proposal that was funded by Sloan. The IEEE proposal had two components — an interactive multimedia information component regarding careers in IEEE related industries and an on-line, e-mail like component to enable students to chat about careers with selected IEEE members. The Internet was in existence, but not yet suited to interactive, multimedia content. Hence, the university package created included several CD-ROMs to the store the interactive multi-media content.

Section Chairmanship and IEEE Staff

Hochheiser:

I believe you also became active in the local Section.

Laker:

Yes. That's another interesting story. Since my prior IEEE exposure was largely through the Societies, I had no little experience with the Sections except as Chapter Chair about twenty years earlier. An IEEE Philadelphia Section leader by the name of Bill Middleton, who was one of the Section’s most experienced and dedicated volunteers, called to invite me to lunch. I agreed to go to lunch, and what he related to me was that the incoming Chair of the Section was moving because of a job change. They needed to insert somebody instantaneously, and he asked me if I would do it. I was already running for Vice President of Educational Activities. However, I didn't know whether I was going to get elected or not. I was faced with a choice where if I said No I might end up having nothing to do, or if I said Yes I might have two major IEEE jobs to do. Not knowing how the election would go, I agreed to do it. Then I proceeded to get elected Vice President of Educational Activities.

Hochheiser:

To both?

Laker:

Both. I don't know whether that had ever happened before. I tried to blend them. I tried to use the Section as a vehicle to do some things that were part of my agenda for Educational Activities and Continuing Education. To the extent I could, I blended them. It also gave me a view into Sections and a deeper appreciation of the value of Sections and the dedication of their volunteers.

Hochheiser:

I assume that there is a Student Section here at Penn.

Laker:

That's correct.

Hochheiser:

Were you at all involved with advising them?

Laker:

I am now.

Hochheiser:

Not back in the '90s?

Laker:

No. I was involved with too many other things.

Hochheiser:

You mentioned Dick Emberson briefly.

Laker:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Besides that did you in this period having much interaction with the staff?

Laker:

Irv Engleson was the Staff Director of the Technical Activities Department. Staff Director is what they call it now, the position he had. I don't know what it was called then. I got to know Irv very well during that time. I also got to know some of the staff that supported Technical Activities Board meetings. When Irv retired and became a volunteer on the Board of Directors he and I were already old friends. And I knew all his idiosyncrasies and ways to push his buttons, and he mine. No, but Irv is a great guy and I have always enjoyed working with him. He was very effective as a TAB Staff Director and also as a volunteer. He may have been a volunteer even before he was Staff Director. Eric Herz has enjoyed a distinguished IEEE career in leadership as both a volunteer and staff. I did not work directly with Eric in those days, I did so as IEEE President

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Laker:

Eric certainly was a Society President. I don't know how high he rose on the volunteer side before went on the staff.

Key Issues in 1990s: Bylaws, Internet

Hochheiser:

Do you recall other issues outside of your area of education that were taking up the Board's time during this period in the mid-'90s?

Laker:

A whole bylaw change took place. I tried to stay as far away from that as possible. I always felt that I'd like to have no bylaws. If you are always doing what is of value to the IEEE membership, adhering to that principle should largely keep you out of trouble. A lot of the bylaws are put in place to protect — not necessarily to protect the members, but the turf of somebody. I don't recall any of the big items. There no doubt were some. The years start to blend a bit since these were all continuous.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

There was a Standards Board, and the Standards Association was a separate corporation that was being formed. I recall there were debates about whether this was appropriate or not. There was the IEEE USA formation, and that occurred before I was President, but there was a lot of confusion over the President of IEEE USA and the President of IEEE. There were times when Paul Kostek, the IEEE USA President, would be quoted and it would be attributed to me as the IEEE President. I received emails and phone calls about these things. At that time the hot button was immigration and H-1 visas. There were these conflicts, which I think have gotten much better due to the IEEE and IEEE-USA leadership working closer together. Paul and I worked very closely together, and I enjoyed working with him.

Hochheiser:

I imagine that there would be times when there would be conflicting positions between your two positions as President of the global IEEE and President of IEEE USA.

Laker:

Oh yes. Their charges are very different.

Hochheiser:

That's right.

Laker:

Being an international organization, what is best for the U.S. IEEE member may not be best for the global IEEE member. That contention is always there. You have to somehow deal with it. It is always there, but it does not always hit the front burner. Of course while I was on the Board, the Internet was taking center stage and the IEEE was wrestling with how to use it. There was a year before I was President when I really had no significant formal IEEE position. During this period I was invited by Ken Dawson, the then IEEE Vice President of Publications, to give a talk about authoring systems for electronic articles at the Publications Board. By the way, during my time as IEEE President-Elect the IEEE BOD expanded the role of the Publications Board to include all of the Internet services and so forth and changed its name. As I gave the talk on authoring systems, some things became clear to me by the questions I was being asked. I realized that if I had gone around the room and asked each Pubs Board member what he or she thought that electronic publication looked like, I probably get a different answer from every one of them. My conclusion or question from that experience was, "How can the Pubs Board lead the charge to electronic delivery of IEEE publications if everyone has a different view of what it is?"

Friedholf Smitz was in that room, and I think Fred Andrews may have been there too. I asked them, "Did I miss the boat here?" I wondered if this was a fair conclusion. When they agreed with me, I suggested we write a vision statement of what IEEE electronic publications should be. We basically opened our minds to everything. In fact, from what I understand, Xplore® was designed to do much more than it does, largely due to that vision statement. That was the blueprint for IEEE Xplore. Part of the vision was not only the way IEEE journal and magazine articles are rendered today, but to also take full advantage of the technology using multimedia. For example, a paper on speech ought to include actual speech recordings, that is samples of speech or sound before the processing and after the processing being reported in the paper. Or in semiconductors and integrated circuits being able to put a layout in color. That is very difficult to do in a print journal because of the expense, but it is not difficult to put online. We designed it based on all the principles and standards of the time.

In 1998 I gave a paper at a Digital Library Conference to communicate the IEEE direction in this regard. That was the beginning. Tony Durniak had just come onboard or came onboard soon after, and told me that he found that document to be enlightening. From what I can tell he certainly was on the same wavelength, whether he was going to do it anyway or used the vision statement's content as guidance to some degree.

Campaign for the Presidency

Hochheiser:

How did you come to run for President of IEEE?

Laker:

I guess it was sort of a natural progression.

Hochheiser:

You did have a progression of IEEE activities heading in that direction.

Laker:

I reached a point where I felt that I could do something as President. My purpose was to keep moving forward with initiatives that I had committed to. I ran on the principles under which I had been operating for all the years I was on the Board. I ran on making the IEEE a glowing example of the use of the Internet and Web technologies, and on continuing education adding value to members. My way of getting on the IEEE ballot was as a Petition candidate.

Hochheiser:

Ah.

Laker:

I went to the December, 1997 BOD meeting to be a BOD candidate. I came out third in a close vote, and the BOD chose to only have two candidates. One vote separated each of the three candidates. I was one vote shy, so I decided to run as a Petition Candidate. Or I was just angry. It was early December and it was getting close to our Christmas break here, so I spent the entire Christmas break figuring out how I was going to run as a Petition Candidate. My predecessors who had run as Petition Candidates did it through snail mail. They sent petitions in stamped envelopes to enough people to get three thousand signatures. That probably means they sent mailings out to about thirty thousand members. They spend money to run for a volunteer job. I decided that I was not going to spend any money on a volunteer job.

I thought, "How am I going to do it? I want to use the Internet. How would I do that?" Another question I asked was, "How do I create a petition? They have to print it, sign it and send it back." If they printed it, it could be on any printer using any word processor on any computer. I need it to print properly. Friedholf Smitz helped me experiment and develop robust petition forms. We experimented with different printers and computers. I was a Macintosh user and he was a PC user. We used different softwares — Word, Adobe Acrobat, just about everything. We found that it was very hard to do because at that time the dot matrix printers had dots that were not the same shape or dimension. If the printed petition were to be truncated by the printer and thereby exclude information, the signed petition could be disqualified. I figured no one would take the time to reformat it if it didn't work. Therefore I felt to succeed we had to make the petition as robust and insensitive to these issues as possible. We tried to do it, and we succeeded to some degree, but not fully. However, people did reformat it. They told me they reformatted. That's how I knew.

The next question was, "Would anybody send a Petition if they had to buy their own stamp and envelope?" I didn't know whether they would or they wouldn't, but decided that if they were not willing to pay for postage to support my candidacy then maybe I wasn't a viable candidate. Part of my preparation was to draw up a list of what turned out to be about 150 IEEE friends who knew me well enough that I didn't have to give them my biography to convince them to support my candidacy for President. I sent email to each one of them telling them what I wanted to do and asking them to support me. They all agreed. Then I sent them my plan for what I wanted to do as President. I sent them my biography and petitions. I asked him, "Send these to your IEEE network and no one else." My purpose was that someone who did not know me and received something from me would probably throw it away. Maybe they would even get mad that I sent them something they didn't want. However, if they got something from someone they respect who asks them to do something, they are probably going to do it. If you multiply my 150 by another 150, you get a lot of members. That seemed to work, and I never received a complaint about spamming.

The next question was, "Is anybody going to send me anything?" I received my answer about mid-February. A DHL truck pulled up to my house, and I was given a DHL package from a person I knew in Italy. To my surprise and delight there are 300 signatures in there, plus a letter encouraging me to run and saying how happy he was that I was running. Another decision I made was that I was going to have all these petitions sent to my home rather than to IEEE, although IEEE would have done received them for me. I did not want to ever question whether someone lost any of my signatures if I didn’t make it. If I lost them it would be on me. I wouldn't know, but I did not want to ever think that that was a possibility. Therefore I thought it would best if I received them at home. Since Piscataway was just a stone's throw away, I could just take them there by car.

As it turned out, my whole family got involved with it. My oldest son created a state-of-the-art website for me, I think the first website for a Presidential candidate. Not only was I unsure whether people would be willing to send petitions to me with their own envelopes and postage, but I never expected the letters of support that were included with the sighed petition forms. I estimated that I received over 4,000 signatures, but IEEE stopped counting when count reached the number required to qualify me for the ballot.

Hochheiser:

When it was clear you had an ample quantity they stopped counting.

Laker:

They also allowed me to bring in a subset of my petitions to be verified early so that I could see what the dropout was, because some people would say, "I'm not sure whether I signed one or not. Shall I sign it again?" My answer was, "If you're not sure you signed it, I'd rarther err on getting two signatures, where one gets invalidated, than get no signatures." About 10 percent dropped out because of duplication or because the member number was unreadable or whatever. It helped me to know what kind of position I was in and how many signed petitions I needed in total in order to meet the minimum requirement of three thousand signatures. With 10 percent dropout I knew that I needed at least 3,300.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

In March I was thinking, "I don't know how this is going to ever make it because I seemed to be so far behind." It wasn't at all a linear process. They came in really fast towards the end near the deadline. A principle I tried to adopt was not to bother my initial 150 friends too much. I did not want to overwhelm them. At the same time, if I thought that if I was falling behind I wanted them to know. I knew that if I were collecting signatures for a candidate and the candidate didn't keep me informed of the progress, I would want the opportunity to get more signatures if more were needed. I think June was the deadline, something like that. In April or so I felt I needed a little more push. I emailed my supporters and told them what I had in hand. I said, "I don't know what's coming, but maybe there needs to be a little more push." And they did. They all went out and got more signatures. They all said they went out and did some extra beating of the bushes to make sure I got enough. In the end it turned out that I had much more than enough to do it. That was a very, very interesting and gratifying experience. Even if I had not won the election, just having succeeded with the petition as I did would have left me feeling I achieved something.

Hochheiser:

You accumulated enough signatures on the petitions, and it became a three-person race.

Laker:

Yes. It was a three-person race.

Hochheiser:

Then you campaigned in some way or another to win the election.

Laker:

That's right. The two board candidates had a budget once they became BOD candidates. I had no budget because I was not a candidate until sometime in June.

Hochheiser:

Oh.

Laker:

Therefore I could not go to all the international meetings that they were able to attend to campaign. I took care of that very easily, however. A number of people on my list of 150 went to all those meetings. Again I decided that it was more effective for them to campaign for me than for me to campaign for me. People respect someone else's opinion of a candidate. They know that the candidates are not going to say anything bad about themselves. Therefore I felt that was probably a positive outcome rather than negative. I don't know all the pieces that came together that ultimately enabled me to win that election, but everything contributed. It was truly interesting.

There was another dynamic here that is sort of humorous. Joel Snyder and Don Bolla were both at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (formerly Brooklyn Poly) at that time. As an NYU alum, the alumni office of Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn treated me like one of their alumni and sent me all of the alumni mailings, including Alumni News. When I was not yet a formal candidate the Alumni News reported, "It will be the first time since Ernst Weber that Brooklyn Poly is going to have an IEEE President." I showed it to my wife and I said, "They don't know what's comin'." Then after the election there was an article that said, "Well, the two Brooklyn Poly faculty didn't make it, but an alumni did." It was an odd set of circumstances that came together. I have often said that everyone should run as petition candidate.

Hochheiser:

There should be no nomination from the Board?

Laker:

There should be no nomination from the Board. Run as petition candidate. Get enough signatures and you're off and running. It's a big commitment to go for that.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Laker:

Once it was time to campaign, my campaign was already set up. I didn't have to organize anything because it was already organized. The same group of people helped me campaign for election. If a Petition Candidate plays his or her cards right, he or she is in a far better position to win the election due to the Petition Campaign than a BOD Candidate who did not have to do very much to get on the ballot. It turns out the current President of the United States ran a very effective campaign using the Internet. The Internet is much more robust and there are many more opportunities for using the Internet for a campaign today than when I ran for President of IEEE. If used effectively it can be very valuable in a campaign.

The President-Elect and the "3 P's"

Hochheiser:

The campaign was run, you won the election over the two candidates nominated by the Board, and you became President-Elect.

Laker:

That's correct.

Hochheiser:

What does the President-Elect do? Basically you have a year as President-Elect before you actually become President. It sounds useful, but in what ways?

Laker:

The President, President-Elect and past President are referred to as the 3 P's. I think that really effective Presidents involve their President-Elect and past President in decisions. They meet with the upper levels of staff at least two or three times a year. That's how often it was when I was President. The buck stops at the President. The President-Elect is going to be the next President and the past President is going out, but they are all deeply involved and expressing their opinions, and their experiences are invaluable. I think the President-Elect's opinion has a little more weight because that person is going to inherit whatever is decided by the President.

I was President-Elect of the Circuits and Systems Society before I started to be President. Joe Bordogna was the President, and he and I did something that I think was unique. I don't think anyone has done this. At that time — and maybe this is still the case — the President was given a block of money to spend on initiatives. At that time it was $100K. When I was President-Elect he and I agreed that we would combine our money together. In this way we had basically $200K to do the initiatives we both felt were important. Some things he started in Joe’s administration were continued during mine, and I was able to start some things as President-Elect that I would not have otherwise been able to do except as President. We kind of shared that aspect of it, and thus I was enabled to sort of start my presidency early. The relationship he and I had here at Penn was I think very helpful and effective.

Hochheiser:

Were you able to do that in part because you and he were both in the same location?

Laker:

I don't know that it could not have happened if we were not in the same place, but the fact that we were very familiar with each other is something I think helped.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

Usually when you reach the point of being President-Elect you know your predecessor. There is no reason why that it can't be done if you can both agree on the importance of continuity. That runs in the face of one's desire to do one's own thing. "I want to have my legacy. That's mine. That's not yours." I have no problem with a shared legacy. To have continuity is particularly valuable in an organization like IEEE where continuity is hard to find.

Hochheiser:

I guess it also requires a certain level of agreement between you and your predecessor as to the direction in which IEEE should be heading.

Laker:

That's right. Usually these cards are known. You know the people. I believe I could have done that with Bruce Eisenstein, because I knew Bruce very well before he got to be President. It didn't happen, but it could have happened. I don't think our, our views of life are very different. Our focus was a little different, but he inherited things that were going on during my presidency and dealt with them very effectively.

Major Initiatives as President

Hochheiser:

What were the major initiatives on which you worked as President-Elect and as President?

Laker:

Xplore was one.

Hochheiser:

It was continuing the work you had started.

Laker:

Absolutely. We began to explore how we would change the organization of IEEE at the volunteer level to take advantage of the fact that publications were not the only things we were doing using the Web and Internet. Therefore the Publications Board became broader. Pete [Peter E.] Morley was involved with that. He may have been the first Vice President of Publication Services and Products Board (PSPB.) We also started the IEEE Presidents' Scholarship. The IEEE Presidents' Scholarship was given to a high school student at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair. It was a $10,000 scholarship with no strings attached given to the student with the best engineering project. There were no strings attached as to where that student went to school or in what particular field the student chose to major. It was the largest scholarship available in the competition at the time. The IEEE Foundation supported it and found the money to fund it. I came up with the name IEEE Presidents' Scholarship with an s and then an apostrophe in order to honor all the IEEE Presidents. It was given to the student who was judged by our team of judges as having the best IEEE relevant project. The first one was given in 1999 and the last one was in 2005. There is now another scholarship program that is called the IEEE Presidents' something.

Hochheiser:

We can get that later.

Laker:

There is another program that has that name, but I believe it is given to IEEE college student members. I'm trying to think if there were any other major initiatives. It was largely the Internet activities.

IEEE Virtual Museum and the GHN

Hochheiser:

There was a question of technical literacy going beyond the engineering community. I don't know if that hit particularly during your presidency. It was around that time.

Laker:

That reminds me of the IEEE Virtual Museum. Emerson Pugh was involved with that.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

It was a retreat of the IEEE Foundation. At that time I had just joined the IEEE History Committee. Amongst the things that I observed was that the IEEE History Center was kind of an untapped treasure. By and large the members did not even know it was there. It had very little presence at that time. This was an opportunity for that treasure to become opened to the members and the public at large — and also provide materials to young people or adults who are not technically educated to learn about the developments in technology that affect them. I always thought that this should also be promoted to members, because most members' families are in that position. I didn't know of any professional association that provided anything from which the families could actually get value.

When I presented this as an idea at the retreat I said, "You know, when I go to the Franklin Institute, with things that are outside of my field I'm just like a kid. I have a more general knowledge of science, but I'm just as curious as the kids." I could see the IEEE Museum in its full-blown form being something that members would use it to gain knowledge. This museum was intended to be more than history. It was to combine how technology works with the history. The Foundation put a lot of money behind it. Then came, unfortunately, the dot-com bust. That occurred just after the museum was launched and the opportunities to raise the money we thought we could raise sort of disappeared. When things are new, and when you build it, is the time to get money. Trying to get money later to maintain it is much harder. We opened it before that happened. We didn't know what was about to happen. It's the same problem with startups. Whatever happens after you start is part of the luck of the game. The museum is no longer in place I don't think.

Hochheiser:

No. We closed it down last year.

Laker:

There is something else. The IEEE History Global —

Hochheiser:

The Global History Network.

Laker:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

We have migrated most of the material from the Virtual Museum to that with a whole lot of other things. It's designed to use Wiki technology. We want to encourage members to go there and post their stories and Sections to post their stories in order to cast a much wider net. It is a bit more member-focused, but with the Wiki technology we can do multiple things at once.

Laker:

With the Virtual Museum and any Web-based program you have to keep it up to date with all the developments that occur.

Hochheiser:

Yes. As you noted, the money dried up and—

Laker:

Yes. It was state of the art when it started. I guess that was in 2001 or something like that.

Hochheiser:

That's about right.

Laker:

In 2007 it was no longer state of the art.

Hochheiser:

That's right.

Laker:

I think there was an opportunity earlier on to take advantage of Virtual Museum. One of the things I have felt that IEEE has not done very well — and it's partly due to the turnover of people — is they are quick to throw things away and start something new when the old thing basically could have branch-point into something better and cost a lot less. However that's not the nature of the beast.

Hochheiser:

No. I suspect that is probably true of any such volunteer organization where leadership is rotating. There is a level of continuity that is not there as a result.

Laker:

That's right. I am disappointed naturally, because that was something the IEEE spent a lot of money on, it was kind of like a child of mine, but I also knew that if it was not sufficiently supported there could be a problem. The Foundation could not do that. There had to be grants and donations and unfortunately the timing was bad. However it was a fun thing to do. I have always encouraged those who run for office and get elected to do these kinds of things. There is a lot of busy work in the IEEE that can bog down a volunteer. If all IEEE volunteers got involved with projects they were passionate about there would likely be less squabbling on petty matters, because there would be time for it. You don't want to waste your time on nonsense.

Volunteer-Staff Relations During Presidency

Hochheiser:

I believe Dan Senese was the Executive Director?

Laker:

That's correct.

Hochheiser:

As a member of the staff, the whole question of volunteer-staff relations is of considerable interest to me.

Laker:

I think now — it may be now in the IEEE bylaws, but at that time the concept that the volunteer President was the CEO and the Executive Director was the COO was being formulated. I felt that whether it was Dan or anybody else that was the Executive Director, it's his or her responsibility to direct the staff. It's not responsibility of the IEEE President. The President sets policy and direction. When outstanding experts are hired as staff, we should let them implement. I am not an expert in a lot of the things that IEEE does. Publications, for instance. I am not going to direct the Publications staff. That would be silly. Unless you don't have somebody to do it, you bring in an expert. It's the same with Standards. Dan Senese and I had a very good working relationship because he understood that was his job. He was very bylaws-oriented. He understood that the bylaws were the principles of the IEEE and he always stood by those bylaws. I enjoyed working with him a lot. He was a very strong ally in some of the issues that we faced as an Institute. I think Dan served as Executive Director for longer than anyone else except Eric Herz. Unfortunately his life tragically ended soon after he left IEEE, though that had nothing to do with it.

Activities and Travel During Presidency

Hochheiser:

What was the university's attitude toward your work as an IEEE leader and the time that it took?

Laker:

Everyone supported me. I wasn't Department Chairman, but I didn't take leave.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

I was almost a 24/7 person for at least two of three years. I had all my courses organized between Tuesday and Thursday and met all my students. Then I would usually leave on my trips on Thursday nights and then return on Mondays. Of course the summers were free.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Laker:

Overlapping with my IEEE Presidency I was an External Examiner for the National University of Singapore. I did a lot of short-course teaching. I was teaching every summer at Oxford. It was nice because I could combine travel for these activities with my IEEE travel. IEEE also was very cooperative, because my expense reports were always very complicated. There were always at least two organizations paying for things. That is not necessarily the easiest thing to divide up. Rather than spend my life going back and forth across the globe and burning a lot of money as well as my energy, I worked to combine things. I did that pretty successfully. Locally the administration was very supportive. They let me organize myself at Penn so that I could do this. The Dean was very supportive. It is a plus for the university to have two IEEE Presidents in succession from the same university.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Laker:

I don't think that will ever happen again. It was very positive, and I never really needed secretarial support because I had plenty of support from the IEEE. Basically all my support for making travel arrangements and so forth were done by the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

I gather you traveled extensively and globally?

Laker:

I did not travel as extensively as some, because I did not take a leave. I was very careful in organizing things so I was not going back and forth across the globe. Some of my predecessors and successors were not so concerned about that. However I did go to some very interesting places. Maybe you have some of them listed there.

Hochheiser:

No, actually I don't have a list of where you went.

Laker:

One of the places I went was Iran. I was the first IEEE President to go to Iran. Mike Lightner went after me. I was at a Region 8 Student Branch's Congress in Istanbul. I met all of these wonderful students, from many of them from the Middle East. I think this was the first Student's Branch Congress they had. The students had tables where they would promote and display what their student branches were doing. There was a student group from Beirut. Beirut was coming out of a civil war. These kids were terrific. They were very proud of what they were doing. They showed a model and pictures of what the rebuilt university was going to look like and all the activities they were doing. I made it a point as President to go talk to every one of these student groups. Then I went over to the Iranian group. I didn't expect that they would speak English all that well. I thought that because of the politics they would not be encouraged to learn. However, they did speak English and we talked about what they were doing.

A lot of these kids in these countries where they are not very well off, but accomplish miracles. They go out and develop conferences, invite luminaries and they find money to pay for their travel. The students from Iran asked me if I would come if I were invited to Iran. I said yes, not knowing that they would do it. They went about to find a way to get me invited, and it turned out the Chair of the Iranian Section was a member of Parliament in Iran. He wrote an invitation and enabled me to get a visa. Rolf Remshardt, who was the Region 8 Director at that time, went there with me. We really had a productive and enjoyable time. We solved some problems. One of the problems they had was in paying dues. They get money from the Institute and we arranged a way that they could basically use that as at least partial dues payment so that they wouldn't have to do money exchange. That saved them a lot of trouble and a lot of money. I met hundreds of students while I was there. After that conference they had the largest IEEE student membership in all of Region 8. Then 9/11 happened and that [travel] came almost to a grinding halt for a while. Fortunately much of that has resumed. Mike Lightner went there during his presidency.

One of the things I felt about the IEEE and the experiences of going particularly to the Region 8, Region 9 and Region 10 meetings was that it is like a United Nations. There are representatives from all these countries and the countries might not very friendly towards each other, but they all go. Most of them are certainly cordial, and some of them are friends. I went with a TAB Colloquium to India. The TAB Colloquium was anticipating going to Pakistan and India, but there was a State Department advisory to U.S. citizens not to go to Pakistan. I had to make a decision whether or not to go, and I decided that it would probably be irresponsible to go there, given that advisory not to go — particularly with a group that would probably get a lot of publicity. We decided not to go, so I called the IEEE leader in Pakistan to tell them the bad news. He understood but was disappointed. A few hours later I got a call from the IEEE leader of India encouraging me to reconsider going to Pakistan. Based on what we see on the news, that's not something one would expect. However that's the nature of the IEEE. To me, for any government not to encourage this kind of exchange is a mistake, because it only improves the relationships between the countries ultimately. Therefore in my opinion IEEE plays a tremendous role, whether it's recognized or not, in that area.

Women in Engineering

Hochheiser:

Were there any particular activities while you were President that tried to encourage women and other underrepresented groups to get involved in engineering?

Laker:

Women in Engineering got formed at that time, and they spearheaded a lot of that, of course. I became one of the first — though perhaps not the first — male members of Women in Engineering. I am still a member. Irv Engleson is a member too I think. He told me. I don't know how many men there were, but I decided that as IEEE President I wanted to support them. I asked Jan Brown, "Is there anything that prevents a male from being a member of Women in Engineering?" She said, "No problem." By the way, in Iran at least 50% of their engineering students are women. That was surprising to me. And they interact together. The male and female engineers were not separated. I was surprised. It was not what I expected to see. I don't know if that has changed, but that was the way it was in 1999. However in the traditional engineering disciplines it is still a problem that women are under-represented. The closer engineering gets to life sciences the more women are involved.

Managing IEEE

Hochheiser:

In a broader sense, how does anyone hope to manage an organization of the size and complexity of IEEE?

Laker:

First of all, don't have your expectations set too high. I had an agenda I was going to do. That is the way I sort of separate things. There were things that I wanted to do and that was one pile of stuff that I did as President. Then there was the stuff with which I got stuck with — usually not fun. Then there were the opportunities that I did not know about. One can't do it all, because something that you thought you wanted to do may be superseded by a new opportunity that looks even more exciting. There was some of all three on my plate. I tried to take the stuff that was unpleasant and put that in the corner. I did not let that get in my way or bog me down. The President runs Board meetings and has to be very impartial and can't play favorites with anything. I think I did that well. I tried to see everyone's view. It is very hard to say that you are managing things in any particular direction except for your stated goals. When there are other volunteers and staff who passionately share common objectives and want to get it done, it will get done. Resources have to be committed to it, so that's where you've got to get people to buy in, but even if you get the resources if nobody does it then it doesn't happen. It all came down to managing I guess, but it is more complicated than that.

Hochheiser:

Are there any other things about your term of presidency you'd like to talk about that I didn't think to ask?

Laker:

No, I think that's good.

Impact of IEEE on Career

Hochheiser:

Good. How have you remained involved in IEEE in the years since your presidency?

Laker:

I decided that I didn't want to be one of those past IEEE Presidents that hung around and got in the way of anybody. As a past President it would be easy to do that. And I did not want to run for election. I had won all my elections and didn't want to blemish my record. If someone felt I had expertise in something they wanted to get done and they wanted my help, I have been usually happy to oblige. Therefore I have served on some ad hoc committees over the years. I am now on the selection committee for the IEEE James H. Mulligan Education Medal. I nominate deserving members for IEEE awards and medals and help them with IEEE Fellow and those kinds of things. I've served on the fellows committee of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society. I have a lot of great memories, and almost all of them involve interactions and working together with volunteers and staff. The only one I am not seeing now and really miss seeing is Dan Senese. Many other staff are still there and the volunteers seem to work themselves around.

Hochheiser:

How would you say over the years IEEE has contributed to your career as an engineer and as an educator?

Laker:

As I have said to students and in many talks I've given about the value of IEEE, I can say with no fear of contradiction that every career opportunity that I have had was a consequence of my IEEE network. I have never had to apply for a job. People have asked me, and it has been through the IEEE network. That also goes for awards. I have never campaigned for any award. I know that people do campaign for awards, because I get campaigned to nominate or whatever. I tell our students in this IEEE Section and when I give these talks is that when you work with people and do good work, people are going to take notice. Something is going to come along. It may be a position in their company. It was an IEEE member that I knew here at Penn who asked me if he could nominate me for the open Department Chair position twenty five year ago. Sometimes people have asked me and I wasn't interested. Nonetheless, every opportunity I have had has come from my IEEE network. How much better does it get than that?

Being IEEE President was an enormous learning experience. I learned more than I ever thought I would ever learn in terms of running a complex organization and getting things done. Even from the petition. I first went into it just thinking, "How can I get this done without it being a big load either financially or time-wise?" A lot of it is what you put into it. If you become an IEEE member and don't do anything with it, then you are not going to get the value. And it's part that you have to give some. If you look for a reward for everything right away, you are going to be continuously dissatisfied and likely quit being a volunteer. You have got to think of it, "I'm going to make an investment and somewhere something is going to happen." And it may be something you may not directly identify with your IEEE activity, but it's going to have an effect. Just let it happen. Enjoy it, let it happen and things happen. That is the way it was for me.

Hochheiser:

Is there anything you would like to add that I have not thought to ask you?

Laker:

No, I don't think so. I can't say enough about my IEEE experience and what it's meant to me — and my family. My wife has been to places she never dreamed she would go, and she was treated very, very warmly when she went on these trips as the IEEE President's wife.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Laker:

It was very, very, very nice, and during that petition campaign my sons were all home. Everyone got involved with it. It was truly a family affair. And my sons have traveled with me to some of these meetings as well. Another story. There was a debate held when Wally Reed was running for IEEE President and it was videotaped. I brought the videotape home with me to watch before the Philadelphia Section’s IEEE Presidential debate. I was chair of the Section and had to officiate it so I wanted a preview of what the candidates might say. My youngest son came in as I was putting tape in the player and asked, "Dad, what you going to watch?" I said, "It's an IEEE President Candidate debate that took place. You're probably not interested." He said, "I'll sit down with you and watch it," and he sat down and watched the whole debate with me. At the end of it he said, "Do you want to know my opinion?" I said, "Sure." He said, "Mr. Read."

Well, after the Philadelphia Section debate Wally was feeling very self-critical of how he performed. I proceeded to tell him this story. I said, "Wally, my son picked you. He listened to the debate and he picked you." Then when I brought my youngest son to Montreal with me, Wally came over and met with him and took him out. Now every time I see Wally he always asks about Brian. There are a lot of very touching kinds of stories. Hopefully I have given you something with which you can work.

Hochheiser:

Quite a lot.