TITLE: Students, Faculty, and the Internet Age AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 10, 2006 3:29 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I've been meaning to write all week, but it turned out to be busy. First, my wife and daughters returned from Italy, which meant plenty of opportunity for family time. Then, I spent much of my office week writing content for our new department website. We were due for a change after many years of the same look, and we'd like to use the web as a part of attracting new students and faculty. The new site is very much an early first release, in the agile development sense, because I still have a lot of work to do. But it fills some of our needs well enough now, and I can use bits and pieces of time this summer to augment the site. My blogging urge was most satisfied this week by the material I assembled and wrote for the prospective students section of the site. (Thanks to the Lord of the Webs for his design efforts on the system.) Werner Vogels I did get a chance to thumb through the May issue of ACM Queue magazine, where I read with some interest the interview with Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon. Only recently I had been discussing Vogels as a potential speaker for OOPSLA this or some year soon. I've read enough of Vogels's blog to know that he has interesting things to say. At the end of the interview, Vogels comments on recruiting students and more generally on the relationship of today's frontier IT firm to academia. First, on what kind of person Amazon seeks:
The Amazon development environment requires engineers and architects to be very independent creative thinkers. We are building things that nobody else has done before, so you need to be able to think outside the box. You need to have a strong sense of ownership, because in the small teams in which you will work at Amazon, your colleagues will count on you to pull your weight -- especially when it comes to operating the service that you have built. Can you take responsibility for making this the best it can be?
Many students these days hear so much about teamwork and "people" skills that they sometimes forget that every team member has to be able to contribute. No one wants a teammate who can't produce. Vogels stresses this upfront. To be able to contribute effectively, each of us needs to develop a set of skills that we can use right now, as well as the ability to pick up new skills with some facility. I'd apply the same advice to another part of Vogels's answer. In order to "think outside the box", you have to start with a box. Vogels then goes on to emphasize how important it is for candidates to "think the right way about customers and technology. Technology is useless if not used for the greater good of serving the customer." Sometimes, I think that cutting edge companies have an easier time cultivating this mindset than more mundane IT companies. A company selling a new kind of technology or lifestyle has to develop its customer base, and so thinks a lot about customers. It will be interesting to see how companies like Yahoo!, Amazon, and Google change as they make the transition into the established, mainstream companies of 2020. On the relationship between academia and industry, Vogels says that faculty and Ph.D. students need to get out into industry in order to come into contact with "the very exciting decentralized computing work that has rocked the operating systems and distributed systems world in the past few years". Academics have always sought access to data sets large enough for them to test their theories. This era of open source and open APIs has created a lot of new opportunities for research, but open data would do even more. Of course, the data is the real asset that the big internet companies hold, so it won't be open in the same way for a while. Internships and sabbaticals are the best avenue open for academics interested in this kind of research these days. -----