Sunday, August 9, 2009

Report from An Ancient Future: Auspicious Day of Celebration for the 7th Graduating Class of Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley Campus

“Over the next twenty, thirty, forty years, when the Carnegie Mellon leadership looks back at this campus, and at 2008 … Some- times, when you look back at a decision, you say, ‘What was I thinking when I did this?’ But with this decision people are going to look back, and say, ‘Was the person a genius who did this?’ That is the kind of impact this campus is going to create.” Pradeep Khosla, 8-7-09

Report from An Ancient Future: Auspicious Day of Celebration for the 7th Graduating Class of Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley Campus

By Richard Power

For the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, all the numbers were sacred and carried spiritual meaning, but he considered seven the “perfect number,” because it contained both the triangle and the square; and he saw it as the basis for his “Music of the Spheres.” Down through history, from pagan pantheons of pre-Christian Europe to the pages of Genesis, from the fortune-tellers of the Roma to the blues artists of the Mississippi Delta, and from the symbolism of the Masons to the gaming tables from Monaco to Macau, seven has been known as a “lucky number.”

So it is not surprising, and certainly worthy of note that the circumstances surrounding the seventh graduating class of Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley campus strike the careful observer as particularly auspicious.

Consider the perspective of Pradeep Khosla, Dean of the College of Engineering and founder of Carnegie Mellon CyLab, shared with over one hundred Silicon Valley alumni at a gathering on the eve of the graduation ceremony.

“Even though it is just only one building, a very small campus in relation to Pittsburgh, but nonetheless, it is a high-impact campus. The people that come here as students are typically non-traditional students; these are not typically 22-year-old students coming here to get their Master’s, these are people of experience, with a clear zeal for what they do, and a clear goal for what they want to accomplish.

“Over the next twenty, thirty, forty years, when the Carnegie Mellon leadership looks back at this campus, and at 2008 … Sometimes, when you look back at a decision, you say, ‘What was I thinking when I did this?’ But with this decision people are going to look back, and say, ‘Was the person a genius who did this?’ That is the kind of impact this campus is going to create.”

“Over the last year and a half, several changes have happened: there are several new programs on this campus, instead of just being a part-time evening campus, there are full-time programs. Now if you come here during the day you see people running around … there is a new, state-of-the-art distance learning class-room that has been built, and two more are going to be built. These changes are all coupled to our vision of being an international campus … We have several international locations – Portugal, Greece, Japan, Korea, Australia, and right now we are working on a project for Africa, in Rwanda. I look at this campus as one of the transit points, one of the stations that many of our international students will visit during their two years in our international programs. There is no better place than Silicon Valley to show the world what America is all about, what entrepreneurship is all about, what a can-do culture is all about. This campus really epitomizes that.”

Martin Griss, who has taken over as Director of the Silicon Valley Campus , added some granularity to the bold strokes of Dean Khosla’s vision:

“We have started a full-time software engineering program. Tomorrow we will graduate nine students who are part of our full-time program. We will graduate 44 part-time students. The incoming class is really exciting. We will have 21 full-time students, and seventy-one part-time students. We have started a PhD. program, which is a bi-coastal with ECE – something we have already wanted to have. We will have 8 PhD. students by December.”

“What I see as our mission moving forward is to continue strengthening and growing education, it’s doing great but we want to expand it, while building up research even more, we have a good research program, which started in Mobility last year, and we want to do more in that area, and we are particularly excited about growing entrepreneurship outreach, growing the program both inside the campus and connecting more to Silicon Valley.”

In their remarks, both Khosla and Griss honored founder Jim Morris.

Khosla described Morris’ effort as “revolutionary and impactful.”

Griss added, “When Jim started there was nothing here but his vision.”

Underscoring the theme of Carnegie Mellon’s commitment to globalism, Mara Barker, Director for Regional Programs, Alumni Relations, spoke of the Multidimensional Global Perspective:

“We have campuses and programs all over the world, but it is more than that. We have faculty and students from all over the world. And when you mix global campuses, global students, global faculty and global research, you have global impact. That is something quite powerful and wonderful that many universities don’t have.”

The graduation ceremony was held in a large white tent on a grassy field, under yet another azure sky. Over 45 students from 10 countries stepped to the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas. They were led to the ceremony by a bagpiper in kilt.

The precise historical origin of the bagpipe is as yet undetermined; its visage began to appear in the iconography of Europe early in the second Millennium, and they are mentioned in the Canterbury Tales, i.e., approximately, 1380 (although it is quite possible that it is as ancient as Pythagorean science of numbers).

However they found their way into this world, whenever they are heard, they have a powerful effect on the listener. The stirring sound bagpipe is an integral element of formal occasions within the Carnegie Mellon University tradition, reflecting the influence of Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish roots. (Indeed, Carnegie Mellon is one of the few universities in the U.S. to offer a degree in bagpipes.)

The keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony was Liz King, a Vice-President and General Manager for Hitachi.

“Throughout her career,” Griss said in his introduction,” she has been responsible for building relationships with strategic alliance partners on a global basis, and for leveraging those relationships to drive new growth of both existing and new markets and has successfully assisted companies in world-wide strategies and international business development.”

King shared some insights from her rich experience, exhorting the graduates to cultivate both a strong network of colleagues and a fiercely open mind:

“A deep and active people network will provide you with a dazzling array of opportunities and choices.”

“The best way to cope with this chaotic world is to have an open mind. Conscious or unconscious constraints on how we view ourselves, our employers, our products and our competitors, everything needs to be critically examined on a real-time basis.”

But King also cautioned against trying to be successful running 20th Century strategies in a 21st Century world:

“How do you navigate through this dynamic high-tech world? Years ago, when the world was much more linear, the conventional wisdom was to set specific goals and manage to them. Well, anyone with a pulse-rate over 50 knows today life outcomes are more closely modeled by quadratic equations and pathways that look more like a strand of DNA than a straight line. The modern world is anything but linear, so stay in friendly relationship with that fact. Why don’t you replace the goal orientation with the vector orientation. Go ahead and set your goals, but detach from the outcomes, and focus on the vector, the path … For every one goal you would like to achieve there exist many others of equal or greater value that you can’t even imagine.”

Ray Bareiss, Director of Educational Programs, presented two of the graduating students with awards.

Alok Rishi received the Dean’s Return on Education Award:

“Having worked for Sun Microsystems for 19 years, this year’s recipient of the Return on Education Award joined the Carnegie Mellon Software Management program, seeking to ‘step out of his comfort zone.’ Shortly after enrolling in the program, he was able to gain the skills and confidence to begin thinking and behaving like a leader. His actions were clearly recognized by his global peer group of 1,500 engineers at Sun, who nominated him to be Principle Engineer. But he didn’t stop there … he left Sun after nearly 21 years to start Yunteq, a software company developing key enabling technology for Cloud computing … By continuing to tell his own story of transformation to his peers, he hopes to inspire others to make similar changes in their own professional lives.”

Daniel Maycock received the Outstand- ing Service Award:

“Dan has been a great ambass- ador for Carnegie Mellon at Boeing in Washing- ton State and tirelessly worked to help us set up inform- ation sessions, promote our programs, and connect with the larger Boeing community ... He serves as an admissions ambassador, speaking with prospective students and answering questions about the Master’s degree program and curriculum …. His enthusiasm for the school and for his program is contagious and generates excitement among his classmates and colleagues, several of whom have applied to the program as a direct result of his outreach.”
Here are some of the many faces of this year’s graduating class, the seventh in the young life of Silicon Valley. Many of you will soon be hearing their names, investing in their ideas, leveraging their work, and vying for their vision, energy and skills.

They are after all the sons and daughters of the seventh year.