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July 07, 2004

Why are there no Papers from Industry at this Conference?

The question why aren't there more papers from industry at this conference, is something I hear often. It is a subject I care about so here are some thoughts one this subject in response one of those remarks.

At Usenix’04 there was one paper from a product group in industry: Dynamic Instrumentation of Production Systems by Bryan Cantrill, Michael Shapiro and Adam Leventhal from Sun Microsystems. In a recent posting on his weblog the first author of this paper, Bryan Cantrill, complains about the fact that he was the only paper from industry and that the conference was heavily tilted towards work from academia and industrial research labs. He then does a comparative analysis of conferences from other engineering fields (e.g. locomotive engineering) and concludes that the lack of industrial participation in the program committee is responsible for not having more papers form industry on the program.

First of all Brian’s initial observation is correct. There are only a few papers from industry at our conferences. And with industry we mean product groups, not the research labs. I am a strong promoter of papers by industry as I feel that academia, and especially the (distributed) systems field, would benefit from more industrial participation, through papers as well as in the audience.

Having served on many program committees and having chaired a few also, I know that the hardest part of your job as PC chair is to get people from industry to join your committee. In all those years I have only succeeded once: The 3rd Windows NT Symposium, which I co-chaired with Stephen Walli, had 6 people from industry, 4 from industrial labs, and 4 from academia. But this was a major exception. In all other cases I have never been able to convince industrial people to join, and I have done a lot of arm-twisting. You often resort to the next-best-thing which is inviting more research lab people. I actually thought that Andrea and Remzi had done a great job with having the Usenix'04 program committee be only half academia.

There actually is a simple reason for this lack of industrial pressence. People in academia and industrial research either see it as part of their job or they actually get brownie points out of serving on a PC. With the increasing submission numbers serving on a program committee is a lot of work, and in general rather unrewarding. People from product groups often do not have the time or the interest to join a program committee, and it does not get rewarded within the standard product development work practice, so it would be something they have to do in the evening hours.

The same goes for paper writing by people from product groups, it is just not being done because there is no reward given within the enterprise for such an achievement (e.g. it will not not be a plus on your next performance review). A few papers from industry were written with support from managers, but in general they are volunteer efforts in the evening hours.

The only conference I know that has a heavy industrial presence is the High Performance Transaction Systems workshop. But to participate in that you only need to submit a 2 or 3 page position statement, which is about the max a product person has time for.

At many program committee meetings I have seen papers from industry getting preferential treatment as we are very well aware of the pressures industrial authors are under. We also know that audiences are eager for 'real world' reports, so often presentation standards are relaxed to make these papers cross the threshold.

In my view it is not as much the program or steering committees that are the problem here. If industry really wants more exposure through conferences they can only do so through investing in their own organization. Make it easier for engineers to write papers and serve on committees, and reward them for doing this.

I know many product people who only need a little push to start writing great papers; it is up to the enterprise organization to provide this little push. We would be very happy to make lots of room at the conferences to see this work presented.

Update: see also the comments in Bryans post and my follow-up to that and then again Bryan's response

Posted by Werner Vogels at July 7, 2004 11:03 AM

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Thanks for posting this -- it was good to hear the insider's perspective. I think it's actually overstating my position a bit to say that I concluded that lack of industrial participation on the USENIX PC was the problem; rather, I view that lack of participation more as a symptom of the problem. The problem is that academia and industry are not working together on research. It was very interesting to me how many papers in the Small Engine Technology Conference were co-written with one author clearly in academia and the other clearly in industry. (This was also true of the other SAE conferences that I browsed.) It's a long road to solve that problem, and it starts with more communication between academia and industry -- communication both about the problems seen in practice, and about the constraints on any practical solution. To be honest, I don't know how to start this dialogue; I proposed aggressively courting people from industry for PCs as one possible avenue.

Posted by: Bryan Cantrill on July 7, 2004 03:01 PM

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Posted by: Zachary on July 27, 2004 03:12 PM