First-Hand:What's in a Name - Use of the Letters I-E-E-E vs. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Submitted by John Vig, 2009 IEEE President & CEO, 24 December 2020

Summary – the goals of this white paper are: 1) to document an important part of IEEE’s history; i.e., that the 1997 Board of Directors decided that “Only the letters I-E-E-E may be used as the name of the organization," 2) to emphasize that membership surveys since at least 2004 have shown that about one-third of higher-grade members do not hold an EE degree (that is ~100K HG members), and 3) to suggest that an investment in recruiting non-EEs would probably result in more new members than the same investment in recruiting EEs.

In early 2008 I was in Matt Loeb’s[1] office discussing the name of the organization and how the full name, “Institute of…” is a problem when trying to attract non-engineers. I told him the story of David Allan,[2] a volunteer and world-renowned scientist in my home society, the UFFC Society.

The year Allan was General Chair of the IEEE International Frequency Control Symposium someone mentioned to me that Allan was not an IEEE member. So, I asked Allan. He responded, “Why would I want to join a bunch of engineers?” Ouch!

As Matt and I were talking, Julie Cozin[3] walked in; listened for a minute, and said, in an exasperated tone of voice, “What are you guys talking about? This problem was solved 10 years ago!”

She proceeded to tell us that the 1997 Board of Directors had discussed this issue and, although the Board recognized that the name was a problem, it decided against changing the name. Instead, it passed a resolution on “The Use of the Letters I-E-E-E.” Subsequently she emailed me the resolution: “Only the letters I-E-E-E may be used as the name of the organization. The IEEE has grown over the years to represent a much wider array of technical interest areas than "electrical and electronics engineering." Legal documents may carry the full name, “The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.” Later, Julie’s assistant, Cindy Poko, emailed me the Board’s November 1997 agenda[4] in which there was a slide entitled, “IEEE Nomenclature.

She also emailed me the following:

“John-- following is from the minutes of the November 1997 Board. Let me know if you need anything else? 

See you Sunday, Cindy

83. Acceptance of IEEE’s Strategic Plan (ISF ’98)

Frederick T. Andrews, Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, made a presentation after which the following motions were made and passed that:…

The Board of Directors approve the IEEE nomenclature proposal, including the use of the brief description “IEEE Serving the Information and Electrotechnology Communities Worldwide.”  There will be no change in the legal name, but “IEEE” will normally be used in identifying the Institute. (The emphasis was added by me, John Vig.)

 

Later, I found the same on the IEEE website, at the IEEE Brand Identity Guidelines page, under “Use of the letters I-E-E-E,” the following.

Earlier, Jerry Engel,[5] a past president of the IEEE Computer Society, had told me that the Computer Society was experiencing serious competition from the ACM, the Association of Computing Machinery, and that IEEE’s name was not helpful in that competition. ACM has “computing” in its name while IEEE has “electrical and electronics” in its name, but no “computer” or “computing.”

In 2003 and 2004, the Computer Society conducted surveys of its members. According to the results (provided to me by Angela Burgess, Computer Society staff at the time), fewer than half of Computer Society members considered themselves to be an electrical or electronics engineer, and slightly more than half considered themselves to be an engineer of any kind.

Another indication of how IEEE is not just for EEs are the key words in the names of our societies and councils. These key words include many disciplines that do not require an EE degree: computer, robotics, nanotechnology, ultrasonics, ferroelectrics, nuclear, plasma sciences, frequency control, superconductivity, broadcast, dielectrics, consumer, information theory, magnetics, reliability, social implications, sensors, vehicular technology, computational intelligence... 

Many scientists and non-EE engineers are loyal, devoted members of IEEE’s technical communities, some even serving as chairs of IEEE conferences and editors of IEEE journals, but the name stops them from joining IEEE. The same is true for many authors, reviewers and conference attendees. (In 2019, for example, only 37% of IEEE journal authors had been members according to Dawn Melley, Senior Director, IEEE Publishing Operations.)

Had the person who convinced me to join IEEE said to me that IEEE was an organization of engineers, I probably would never have joined. If IEEE advertised itself as being an organization for engineers, it would probably have ~100K fewer members than it has now.

Before 2005, IEEE had a “REP list” that listed the qualifications required for IEEE membership. (I had discussed this list in my oral history.) In November 2005, the Board of Directors eliminated the REP list (of >150 technical specialties) and replaced it with six “IEEE-designated fields,” as can be seen ever since in IEEE Bylaw I-104.11.

IEEE Bylaw I-104.11 specifies that "The IEEE-designated fields are:

  • Engineering;
  • Computer sciences and information technology;
  • Biological and medical sciences;
  • Mathematics;  
  • Physical sciences;
  • Technical communications, education, management, law and policy "

The new bylaw complemented the 1997 Resolution of the BoD on the “Use of the Letters I-E-E-E.” It made it clear that IEEE was not just for engineers; that computer scientists, IT professionals, physicists, etc. were welcome in IEEE, but, unfortunately, this fact has not been publicized much.

IEEE periodically performs a “member segmentation” survey. The 2004 survey results showed that 69% of higher-grade members (i.e., members other than students and life members) held an electrical or electronics engineering degree, and 60% held a degree other than electrical or electronics engineering. (The reason the sum is greater than 100% is that some hold more than one degree.)

Electrical or Electronic Eng. 68%
Computer science 17%
Computer engineering 15%
Physics 9%
Information technology 8%
Mathematics 6%
Business or finance 6%
Systems engineering 5%
Mechanical engineering 4%
Biomedical engineering 3%
Industrial engineering 2%
Materials science/engineering 2%
Law 1%
Medicine 0%
Other 10%
Source: 2016 Member Segmentation Study; Marc Beebe, Senior Director, Strategic Research, Public Imperatives, & Corporate Development, IEEE Corporate

The 2008 survey results showed that 66% of higher-grade members held an electrical or electronics engineering degree, and 68% held a degree other than electrical or electronics engineering. In just four years, the percent who held an EE degree went down by 3%, and the percent who held a degree other than EE went up by 8%.

The 2016 survey showed that the percent who held an electrical or electronics engineering degree was still 68% but the percent who held a degree other than electrical or electronics engineering grew by 20% since the 2008 survey.

The 2004 to 2016 surveys also showed that,

  1. 32%, or ~100,000 HG members held no EE degree in recent years,
  2. that the segment of membership who held other-than an EE degree grew from 60% to 88% between 2004 and 2016 while the percent who hold an EE degree didn’t grow at all. The non-EE segment grew although IEEE has not made much of an effort to attract non-EEs to the organization, and
  3. Provided that IEEE makes it clear that all who work in IEEE’s fields of interest are welcome to enjoy the benefits of IEEE membership, an investment in recruiting non-EEs who work in IEEE’s fields of interest is likely to be more successful than the same investment in recruiting EEs (especially because EEs are more likely to already know about IEEE than non-EEs).

Notes

  1. Matthew S. Loeb, Staff Executive, Corporate Strategy
  2. Allan had worked at NIST, Boulder, CO, USA. He did join IEEE, eventually, and was elevated to Fellow in 2020
  3. Julie Cozin, Director, Governance, IEEE Corporate Activities
  4. The June 1997 minutes contains,’USE of IEEE - A discussion was held on the use of “IEEE” instead of the full name of “The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.” ‘
  5. Gerald L. Engel, 2005 President, IEEE Computer Society