Engineering with a Mission

By Santa Clara Magazine

In conjunction with the School of Engineering’s centennial, during 2011–12 the President’s Speaker Series has brought leaders and innovators to campus to examine how engineering is changing the world. Here are a couple ways.

The innovation imperative

Paul Otellini
President and CEO, Intel

Oct. 6, 2011

A century ago, many saw engineering as the most utilitarian of professions. Engineers designed things. They solved structural and mechanical problems. As a result, engineers have had a hand in shaping most of the significant advances in human history. And increasingly, engineering sits at the heart of the changes that we see in every field— infrastructure, energy consumption, urban design, manufacturing, or the field I know best—technology. I want to talk to you about three challenges that face the technology industry. They are technological, social, and human challenges that confront Intel today.
 

Everywhere computing

Computing has undergone a revolution in just the past decade. It is in our phones, in razor-thin laptops, in our cars, our televisions, and even in signs at the mall. A few years from now, our computing devices will enable experiences that most of us haven’t even thought about yet. Computing will become more engaging, more consistent, more aware.

People won’t wait for their device to search or to respond to them. Devices will engage as fast as we can think; access to the digital world will be available across any device. And your computing device will be increasingly aware of your preferences, so that it adapts to your needs rather than the other way around.

All this will create remarkable convenience. It will also create new challenges to privacy and security. Almost 66,000 new instances of malware are identified every single day. These are security threats that enter our computers, but also all the computing power in all the devices that we interact with in every moment of our lives—in stores, in airport security systems, in our cars, on our phones.

Hackers are proving just as innovative as the computer makers. We have to make sure that our ability to innovate outpaces their ability to destroy.

At the very moment that computing has never been more accountable, it can also become more precarious. Everyone here will work in a world in which personalized everywhere computing is taken for granted. Our challenge—your challenge as future engineers—is making sure that it’s as accessible, secure, and trusted.
 

Extending the benefits of technology

Throughout most of its brief history, technology has been a story of the developed world. The next 10 to 20 years, though, are about extending the same potential to the less developed world. In some cases, many of the citizens there can’t yet afford advanced technology. Yet it’s precisely these impoverished countries that would reap huge benefits from technology: improved education systems and healthcare, stimulated economic development, and enriched lives.

We are already seeing eye centers in rural India that, for the first time, can process eye exam data through an online connection to a much larger clinic. In Panama, we’re creating the first Internet connections to rainforest villages. This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a fundamental change in how modern services are brought to the most impoverished places.

In the past, the first question always was—how will we get trucks there? Technology is changing that conversation. These are long-term projects. But they are exactly the challenges that cry out for engineers who want a mission, who want to make a difference.
 

Who will deliver all this innovation?

Who will overcome the challenges of security and seamless connectivity? Who will invest in our future? For our own nation’s wealth and competitiveness, I’m worried about the answer to these questions.

You and your classmates at Santa Clara are the exception, not the rule. A chronic shortage of engineering students in the United States threaten this country’s roles as the world’s leading innovator, impeding our nation’s fragile economic recovery.

Over the past 20 years, the percentage of engineers graduating in the United States has stagnated, while India and China surpass us with rapid progress. American universities are not producing enough of the right kind of engineers to support the demand.

I serve on President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, where I co-lead a task force to address the need for more American engineering graduates. Lucrative career opportunities await engineering students with specialized skills. If we can increase graduation rates of qualified, interested students like you, we can move a long way to solving our shortage.

The challenges I described make this a more exciting world for engineers, not a frustrating one. And I believe that much of Silicon Valley’s enduring success has been its ability to continue to reinvent itself in the face of a changing world— a difficult and disruptive endeavor. But as anyone who’s worked in Silicon Valley knows, it can be exactly the right environment for new thinking and breakthrough innovations.

Read Otellini's talk in its entirety.

 


From garage to global importance: the rise of the PC

Steve Wozniak
Co-founder, Apple;
Chief Scientist, Fusion-IO

Jan. 26, 2012

A Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist for more than 30 years, Wozniak was integral in launching the personal computer industry with his designs and, together with Steve Jobs, the founding of Apple Computer. He was joined in conversation by Ahmed Amer, associate professor of computer engineering.

Ahmed Amer: In addition to being a hero for all techies, you also are quite well-known as an inventor and innovator—and not just for inventing the PC.

Wozniak: An engineer can learn how to apply all the needed formulas to do things properly. An inventor kind of daydreams a lot and thinks about something new and wonders, “Is that possible? Maybe I could do this thing.” Inventors are very often independent, working on their own—not in big teams, not for a company. Why do you think companies like Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and Google come from young kids just out of college? Because they haven’t yet gotten to the point that they need a certain level of income and need a company behind them. They can explore their ideas.

Amer:
What would you consider a good engineer?

Wozniak: Nowadays, since it’s mostly software, the good engineer can sit down and write a lot of great code; it works and does what it’s supposed to do. It’s hard to find the engineer who can make an entire large system. A great engineer crosses many disciplines. They haven’t learned one little type of programming job.

Take my own example. I would sit down and dream up ideas of a machine that could be a computer, that was affordable. What parts would I need? I never once took a diagram out of a book. I would design these weird little things on paper, then draft it up on my drafting table. Then I’d plan where the chips go on a board and plug them in, wire by wire—solder it here, solder it there. I did the testing, the hardware, the software. Many disciplines allowed me to do one complete job and keep control and understanding of it.

Steve Jobs has said that you need one mind at the top. At Apple, his was that limiting mind—even with a lot of departments, he would pull them in and only allow the final product to go out with a thinking that is good from one head, one brain.

Today’s products have billions of parts in a small area: How do you fit it all into a phone? And what is beauty? That also means simplicity. I want things to get more and more natural until eventually my computer is as good as a human being.

Watch video of Steve Wozniak's talk below:

 

comments powered by Disqus