In This Issue
Summer Bridge on Engineering the Energy Transition
June 26, 2023 Volume 53 Issue 2
This issue explores the energy transition needed to address the mounting threats of climate change. The articles are an excellent resource to help inform meaningful decisions and steps for energy-related contributions to reduce carbon emissions.

President’s Perspective: Tribute to Great Engineering Leadership

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Author: John Anderson

Great leadership rests on two important traits: optimism about the future, and commitment to do both great and good things. The engineering profession and our country lost two great leaders this year who demonstrated both: Gordon Moore (1929–2023; NAE 1976) and Bill Wulf (1939–2023; NAE 1993). They pointed us toward horizons not imagined before, and they led by example, keeping their eye on the value of engineering to advance society and improve the welfare of all its people.

Moore’s law[1] is familiar even to those without a technical background. In 1965 Gordon noted that the density of transistors on a chip had doubled about every year of the previous decade; later he refined his observation to 18 months for the doubling. Today integrated circuit technologies can deliver more than a billion transistors on a chip, and the cost per transistor has fallen dramatically.

The impact on daily life of the miniaturization of electronic circuits cannot be overstated. As a cofounder of Intel, with the late Robert Noyce (NAE 1969) and Andy Grove (NAE 1979), Gordon led the advancement of the microelectronics industry with a vision based on technical knowledge, technological aspiration, and business foresight. Microelectronics are now foundational to everyday life in ways large and small—in smartphones, microwaves, cars, computers, MRI scanners, and hearing aids, to name just a few of their applications—all attributable to Gordon’s foresight and actions.

In 2000 Gordon and his wife established the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to “create positive outcomes for future generations.”[2] Financial support from the foundation has driven scientific discovery, improvements in health care, and environmental protection. In this and other ways Gordon Moore demonstrated that he was committed to doing good things.

Bill Wulf diverged from his undergraduate training in physics to earn one of the first PhDs in computer science in 1968—before the field had been established as an academic discipline. Early in his career, as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, he and his wife Anita Jones (NAE 1994), also a faculty member, started a software company called Tartan Laboratories that was eventually sold to Texas Instruments. Bill and Anita joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in the late 1980s and worked there for the remainder of their careers except for their public service positions.[3]

While Bill was highly recognized for his technical achievements in computer programming and architecture, his legacy is perhaps more defined by his leadership in engineering. He served as assistant director (1988–90) of the newly established NSF Directorate for Computer and Information Science Engineering (CISE) and helped move computer science to the forefront of engineering and science disciplines. And when in 1995–96 the NAE suffered a leadership disruption and began losing its focus on its mission, Bill was appointed interim president by the Council. As a testament to his confident, creative, thoughtful, and highly principled leadership, he was elected by the NAE membership in 1997 to complete the 1995–2001 term, and in 2001 he was reelected, to a full 6-year second term.

I was elected to the NAE in 1992 but had no idea what went on “behind the curtain,” although I was aware of the leadership crisis of 1995–96. I clearly recall how Bill (and Anita) stepped in to boost the sagging morale of the Academy and not only right the ship but also speed it along its intended course. Their vision, commitment, warmth, and enthusiasm were just what was needed.

Bill respected the staff and the members and was -visibly engaged in NAE activities. He advanced diversity and inclusion as a priority of the NAE well before it was accepted by the public and the members. As he memorably wrote: “in any creative profession, what comes out is a function of the life experiences of the people who do it…. [Without] diversity, we limit the set of life experiences that are applied, and as a result, we pay an opportunity cost….”[4] EngineerGirl was established to encourage young women to study engineering and pursue a career in it. In addition, the Global Grand Challenges program was created, and he brought the Center for Engineering Ethics and Society to the NAE.

The goal of engineering is to create extraordinary things for the good of society. Progress—and the wellbeing of the profession—depend on visionary, thoughtful leaders such as Gordon Moore and Bill Wulf. They will long be remembered and treasured.




[3]  Anita was director of Defense Engineering and Research in the Department of Defense (1993–97).

[4]  Wulf WA. 1998. Diversity in engineering. The Bridge 28(4):8–13.

About the Author:John Anderson is president of the National Academy of Engineering.