As I See It, September 2011

Picture of Morgan

By Nelson Morgan, Director

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

- Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

ICSI is about to change — as it has many times in its quarter-century of existence. But indeed, it will stay the same.

And this time, the change (and also the continuation) is quite personal. I'm leaving the position of ICSI director at the end of the year, after almost 13 years in this position. However, I'm not leaving ICSI. My current plan is to continue at the Institute, mostly as a research scientist, although I will be giving some assistance to the new director. ICSI has been a wonderful place for me, and I have no wish to leave it. But 13 years at the helm is probably enough. And as previous director Jerry Feldman told me when I took the job, "There are two great days in the life of a boat owner: the day he gets the boat, and the day that he lets it go."

I came here as a research scientist in 1988, and within a few years ICSI was not just another job; it was my home. So when the director opportunity "knocked" in 1999, I enthusiastically accepted. A couple of months later I wasn't so sure that this had been a very wise move; the Institute was transitioning between two different funding models, and it was more than a little scary while we figured out how to stay afloat. But with the help of our outstanding staff, we made it through a tough time, and before long we had grown into a stronger research organization. We've had to change our funding model as conditions changed. We moved from a reliance on international sources to a budget largely based on industrial funding, during the dot-com boom; and then, with the dot-com bust, our primary support came from U.S. Federal sources, even as significant international and industrial funding continued. The cast of characters at ICSI has also changed quite a bit over the years; of the group that was here for ICSI's formal inauguration in 1988, only Jerry Feldman, Dick Karp, and I are still on staff. But despite changes in research directions, funding model, and personnel, in many ways ICSI seems to be pretty much the same place. We still have our "teas" every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, a practice that Jerry started early on. We still hear multiple languages in the halls. We still have an extremely responsive administrative staff, one that handles the heterogeneous needs of our researchers with skill and grace. The accomplishments of ICSI principal investigators have certainly not decreased; to give just one example, four out of the last ten SIGCOMM Award winners have come from ICSI (including, this year, Vern Paxson). And of course, we still have our close relationship with the UC Berkeley campus, especially with EECS, while maintaining the independence that keeps us flexible in so many ways.

And so, ICSI largely stays the same, despite continual change. And once again, ICSI is about to change, though not in any way that should diminish it.

Starting in January, our new director will be Dr. Roberto Pieraccini, an experienced and respected scientist who has excelled in the area of spoken dialog systems and other research topics at well known laboratories like AT&T and IBM, and who also has leadership experience in another small independent organization (in his case, a successful commercial start-up). We've spoken extensively about ICSI's future and I'm confident that he will be great in the director role. I'm also going to assist Roberto as his deputy director, at least for a while.

It's been a great privilege to be ICSI's director. The easiest part of the job has been bragging about our amazing staff — I don't have to work very hard to find reasons to praise the efforts of people who are at the top of their field. The administrative staff is also exceptional; it is almost routine to have glowing comments from visitors in their departure documents.

Given the upcoming change, this is my last opinion column for the ICSI Gazette. I've had a lot of fun spouting off twice a year, and pointing to some of the wonderful things about ICSI. I've particularly enjoyed picking out the quotes that I start these columns off with, so I will indulge in a double dip here by closing with this one:

Happy trails to you, until we meet again .

- Dale Evans