Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Five Great Ideas from Today's IT Collaborative Event

There was a whole lot of tweeting going on this morning at the Massachusetts IT Collaborative event at Microsoft's NERD Center in Kendall Square... and the energy level at the event was really high.

One thing that was kind of depressing to me was listening to people like Steven Vinter of Google, Andy Ory of Acme Packet, and Emily Green of the Yankee Group try to sum up what had been discussed over a few hours in just five minutes when Gov. Patrick showed up to "listen." Vinter also showed an egregiously bad slide that tried to, I think, illustrate all the interconnects between various IT clusters in Massachusetts -- but it was one of those slides with an encyclopedia's worth of text on it, bubbles connected to bubbles, arrows everywhere. Rube Goldberg would have been proud, and I suspect it sent the message that the IT industry isn't so sharp when it comes to simplicity or clarity of message.

But there were lots of great ideas in circulation. Here are five that really resonated with me, and a quote I liked:

1. Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital suggested that CEOs of larger, more successful companies ought to have "office hours" for younger, up-and-coming CEOs, much like college profs do. That could be a nice, low-commitment way of mentoring ... perhaps letting them commit one or two hours a month when they wouldn't have to leave their building. Many people at today's event focused on the issue of mentorship as a key to cultivating a new crop of big, important, sustainable companies here.

2. We need to make federal visa policy an important issue that everyone here in Massachusetts is engaged with. Part of what we do in the state is to make young people smarter. Why do we then allow them to be shipped back home, especially if they'd rather be working (or starting great companies) here? Akamai CEO Paul Sagan paraphrased Thomas Friedman, who has suggested that we staple a green card to every advanced degree we give out in the US.

3. Sagan also mentioned that you can walk or drive through Kendall Square and never know it is one of our region's hubs of innovation. (Perhaps even a denser concentration of smart people, research labs, and cool companies than anywhere in Silicon Valley.) But there are no signs to let you know what's there. If you drive down Highway 101 in California, in contrast, you see all kinds of evidence of the tech economy: Oracle, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, etc. The photo above is the blank sign at the front door to Google's Cambridge office, which perhaps 10,000 people pass by every day.

4. Connecting with students is a big challenge. Let's say you run a trade group and you want to make your annual conference open to students... or you want to organize an open house at your company to attract great students for a summer internship. There's no easy way to communicate with the student bodies of the hundreds of great schools around Massachusetts. I wonder how tough it would be to create a wiki that lists the contacts at every school's career office, and perhaps the e-mail addresses of the students who run the entrepreneurship/tech/business club on campus, and a few profs interested in helping be liaisons to industry. This wiki might also list tech companies willing to send speakers onto campuses for classes or club meetings, along with the relevant contact.

5. Tod Loofbourrow, founder of Authoria, had a great take during the session on communication... something that came up in last month's brainstorming session on how we can better communicate the innovative stuff that happens in our corner of the world. He said that pioneering work is being done here on healthcare IT, and making the healthcare more efficient, and that we should commit to saving the U.S. X number of dollars and X number of lives with our innovations. That got us all talking about how Massachusetts is focused not on tech-for-the-sake-of-tech, but technology that solves real problems... whether in healthcare, energy, business, or other spheres. That strikes me as really good positioning.

Finally, I liked Andy Ory's comment that we're still haunted by the ghost of Rout 128 past...and the ghost of California present...but what we really should be focused on is the ghost of Massachusetts' future.

What'd you hear that you liked? Did you post about the event? Feel free to add something in the comments...

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Anonymous Aaron Gerry said...

Hey Scott,

I didn't attend the IT event, but I went to the MIT Enterprise Forum tonight. I really like point number four, it seems like every event I go to, every entrepreneur is talking about creating a more open community. As this trend continues, it'll be interesting to see what MA is like in 3-4 years.

June 10, 2009 11:26 PM  
Blogger Deals said...

There is no gohst of 128 past. We have to deal with the cards we have today. I am 100% behind a more open community of entrepreneurs...working toward this every day. This combined with tapping our schools and universities is our top priority. There is alot of money in the wings to fund smart ventures...this will happen.

June 14, 2009 9:39 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hey Scott,

I agree there were lots of great ideas in circulation at last Wednesday’s IT Collaborative Event---the five you cite among them. I was also struck by both the high energy throughout the day and the extraordinarily positive and broadly supported vibe to thoughtfully grow the state’s IT eco-system.

I have a different take on the issue addressed in your first paragraph. I can appreciate that Steve Vinter’s slide did not represent a simple picture. However, those of us who attended the IT Talent Needs session Steve led immediately grasped the that the whole point of the slide was to depict the arcane complexity of the many funders, interests and programs functioning in the IT workforce/education landscape. I suggested even the many bubbles on the slide representing programmatic activities dramatically understated the reality which more nearly represents “a thousand points of light”. The discussion went on to highlight three distinct downsides of this “thousand points of light” phenomenon:

 With so many programs/projects competing for corporate attention and funding the more likely outcome is to force companies, very much interested in the IT workforce issue, to the sidelines. That is, few companies have the time and staff capacity to sift through the plethora of programs and decide which offer a distinctive value added benefit,

 The inevitable “mile wide and inch deep” funding associated with this phenomenon often results in evaluation being underfunded and thus it is very difficult to know what is working, and finally,

 The “mile wide and inch deep” funding approach also means there is virtually no funding available to “scale” those programs with evidence of producing positive outcomes.

The “arcane complexity” slide further led to an important discussion where Joyce Plotkin, MTLC President Emerita, offered that if the Secretaries of Economic Development, Workforce Development and Education could develop a common shared vision for growing the state’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce then real progress would likely be much closer at hand.

I look forward to your continued coverage of these important issues.

June 15, 2009 1:34 PM  

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