The Drivers Behind IEEE Collabratec

Volunteers are leveraging the new online platform for their groups

23 October 2015

This article is part of a series on IEEE Collabratec, a new online tool that helps technologists network, collaborate, and create, all from one central hub.

IEEE Collabratec is now bustling with activity within its various geographic and topical online communities. The tool may have been launched officially in September, but many IEEE volunteers and members have been testing the platform since the pilot began in November 2014, helping to make the site a valuable resource for those who sign up to use it. The online platform offers a suite of tools people can use to network, collaborate, and create. So far, more than 12,000 people have signed up.

“Volunteers have spearheaded the strategic direction of IEEE Collabratec,” says John Day, director of member products and programs for IEEE Member and Geographic Activities, in Piscataway, N.J., who helped lead the development of the platform. “They know the opportunities available within the platform that are relevant to members of their communities.”

Many of the volunteers now serve as moderators, helping to spark conversations, inform their communities of upcoming events in their local areas or fields of interest, and connect like-minded people who may be working on similar projects. Here are several ways the new platform is being used.

BUILDING UGANDA

As publicity secretary for the IEEE Uganda Subsection, Member Ezabo Baron runs IEEE Collabratec’s Uganda community, where he informs its members of local activities and provides a platform for people to voice their suggestions or concerns related to engineering in Uganda. It’s also a place for him to promote important developments in the country.

Baron leads an IEEE Engineering Projects in Community Service, or IEEE in EPICS, program, which partnered with several of Uganda’s leading universities to develop a Web-based project management platform. He hopes to use it to generate ideas for innovative community projects, including new services that could have commercial potential. The Science, Technology, and Innovation Web-Based Management Platform, as it’s called, will also be a hub for enlisting the expertise of IEEE members in Uganda in evaluating new technologies, developing prototypes and products, and helping to incubate startup companies—all of which could lead to more opportunities in the country.

As a preliminary effort, Baron put up a presentation on IEEE Collabratec that describes his IEEE in EPICS project and encourages people both inside and outside Uganda to get involved. He will also present problems worthy of consideration there. For example, he asked for ideas on how open-source hardware and software could be used to improve Uganda’s economy.

IEEE Collabratec is an important tool for academia, Baron points out. “The engineering, technology, and scientific communities in Uganda have limited access to platforms for collaborating on research,” he says. “Now our academics have an avenue for finding research partners and sharing their work with the rest of the world.”

He has also created a private, invitation-only group to get feedback on early-stage research and other innovations taking place in his country. Such private groups are easy to form with IEEE Collabratec.

SUPPORTING MADISON

As chair of the IEEE Madison (Wis.) Section, Member Charles Gervasi says he “became a believer” in IEEE Collabratec after learning about it at an IEEE meeting in Milwaukee earlier this year. His section had been checking into the best way to communicate with its members for several years. None of the social networks had the functions he needed. He views IEEE Collabratec as a “newsletter you can talk back to.” He posts news of interest to members of his Madison online community and often seeks feedback. For example, after a local IEEE event, he’ll ask attendees to review how it went to help gauge whether the speaker should be brought back or if similar topics should be covered at future meetings.

Gervasi also posts local electrical engineering job openings. “My hope is that those in the Madison area will be able to find jobs this way,” he says, adding that the platform also provides opportunities for people to help one another in their careers or with other professional concerns. “The value of IEEE Collabratec is that it can be both niche and local—not everyone talking about everything all at once,” he says. “If you want to discuss engineering in Madison solely with other engineers, you can do so. I don’t know of any other site that makes that possible.”

Visit the IEEE Collabratec website to sign up and join one of its many communities.

CONNECTING YOUNG PROFESSIONALS

Graduate Student Member Mathew Carias, vice chair of IEEE Young Professionals, is in charge of posting news and events to the group’s social networks. So it was only natural that he would become the moderator for the Young Professionals community on the IEEE Collabratec site. In this role, he posts information that includes news of upcoming webinars, conferences, and social mixers.

He hopes to use the site for a lot more. For example, because the Young Professionals is an international group, he looks forward to a feature still being developed that will let him post events by city. This way, members can connect with others when they are traveling or relocating to a new city.

“I live in Toronto, but I’m going to Chicago for a week,” Carias says. “I could easily go to the IEEE Collabratec community to look up what’s going on with Young Professionals while I’m there.” At present, events are posted on the community page but are not categorized by city.

The platform is also a great way for people who meet at Young Professionals events to stay involved, he says.

The Young Professionals online community within IEEE Collabratec currently has more than 1,700 members, and Carias predicts this number will increase quickly. He is letting others know about joining through social media and e-newsletter blasts.

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