Software Management celebrates 10 years of successful innovation in Silicon Valley-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Software Management celebrates 10 years of successful innovation in Silicon Valley

Alumni panelists, from left: Alok Rishi, Merline Saintil, Frank Gutierrez, Ana Pinczuk, with Co-Director of the Integrated Innovation Institute, Jonathan Cagan (Photo by Sonic Images Group, Inc.)
Alumni panelists, from left: Alok Rishi, Merline Saintil, Frank Gutierrez, Ana Pinczuk, with Co-Director of the Integrated Innovation Institute, Jonathan Cagan (Photo by Sonic Images Group, Inc.)

This year Carnegie Mellon University's Master of Science in Software Management degree program marked its 10th anniversary. The interdisciplinary program, offered at the Silicon Valley campus, was recently incorporated into the university's new Integrated Innovation Institute. To commemorate both events, alumni and friends of the program met on Sunday, June 22, at Tesla Corporate Headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. for a celebration and class reunion.

Excitement was high as 150 alumni and guests gathered for the event, which included Deepak Ahuja, CFO of Tesla and a CMU alumnus, as the keynote speaker, presentations from the co-directors of the Integrated Innovation Institute and other visitors from the main CMU campus in Pittsburgh. In addition, four very accomplished software management alumni formed a panel to discuss innovation in the entrepreneurial environment: Frank Gutierrez (MS '10), Vice President of Business Applications at Genesys; Ana Pinczuk (MS '10), leader of the Global Enterprise Theater (GET) Services Sales group at Cisco Systems; Alok Rishi (MS '09), CTO/Co-founder at Khylo, Inc.; and Merline Saintil (MS '05), head of global operations for Mobile & Emerging Products at Yahoo!

The software management program launched in 2003 as the MSIT in Management of Software Systems Development, a part-time program designed for mid-career software professionals working on large-scale systems development. The current master's degree curriculum and name were adopted in 2007, and the program has evolved to emphasize software and product development as practiced by the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley. A full-time program was added in 2011 with a specific focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. Including the Class of 2014, the program now has more than 300 graduates, among them software engineers, product managers and successful entrepreneurs. Many continue to work in the Bay Area, providing an invaluable professional network for fellow Silicon Valley campus and Bay Area alumni.

Collaborative success and elite innovators

Jonathan Cagan, George Tallman and Florence Barrett Ladd Professor in Engineering in CMU's Department of Mechanical Engineering, and co-founder / co-director of the Integrated Innovation Institute, acted as emcee and opened the event by describing the collaborative nature of the newly formed institute — a partnership between the College of Engineering, the Tepper School of Business, and the School of Design, part of the College of Fine Arts. According to Cagan, "the role of the Integrated Innovation Institute is to train elite innovators through the holistic contributions of these different fields. A culmination of these disciplines is necessary to develop a successful product or service today." Cagan added his enthusiasm to the inclusion of the software management program as part of the institute. "The SM program is a real gem and brings the software perspective to the design and business components that were already being explored in product development creations."

Also joining in the celebration was James Garrett, Dean of the College of Engineering. "It was an easy decision to include the software management program in the Integrated Innovation Institute," he said. "As dean, my vision is to develop greater interactions and greater integration between the Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh and to strive to have all of the programs offered affiliated strongly with an activity at Pittsburgh's main campus."

Keynote speaker Deepak Ahuja
Keynote speaker and CMU alumnus Deepak Ahuja of Tesla Motors (Photo by Sonic Images Group, Inc.)

Keynote speaker Ahuja earned his MBA at CMU's Tepper School of Business and worked at Ford before joining Tesla. In his insightful speech, he said "The spirit of innovation is such a powerful force. To really be revolutionary in your innovation or your thought process, you need that incredible vision which is driving, which is passionate, to bring an awesome team of people around you to make something new happen."

Alumni in software leadership

Cagan posed several questions for the alumni panelists, engaging their technical acumen and leadership experience to focus on key questions facing Silicon Valley and the international software industry.

What's the biggest challenge you face as a leader in the technical field? Cisco's Pinczuk said "The biggest challenge is recognizing what you have to do to change as a leader, recognizing talent and what you need for the company going forward." 

What's the best way to prepare our workforce to be successful in a multidisciplinary future? Rishi said he was "excited about people bringing in wildly different ideas from different disciplines through the transition of the software management program into the new integrated innovation institute." Saintil added, "We want people to be curious, this allows you to change how you're seeing the world and be innovative." Gutierrez noted that "it is important to refuel the intellectual tank; interacting with the (Silicon Valley) community to get a better level of intellect."

What excites you about the future of the software industry? For Rishi, it's new opportunities — "everything has a programmable interface. Anyone passionate about software can find their niche." Gutierrez added, "There is a concern that we are seeing a big digital divide; those who have the ability to have knowledge and those who do not. Technology is a huge equalizer and assists with diversity. But we really need to ensure that as we are able to participate in this, we also bring other folks into that mix."

Cagan's follow-up question: What worries you about the future of the software industry? Pinczuk's answer, echoed by other panelists, was "Security! How do we safeguard the information and data that is relevant to us? This is a big software opportunity for those of us in the room." Saintil elaborated, saying "Privacy is a big concern for me as a leader. Do our clients feels that we are being transparent with regards to what information is being collected?"

The final question: What were the most useful skills, lessons and knowledge in the software management program? Rishi summarized the experience well, explaining "The complexity is not technology. The people are the most random part of the equation. Managing people, dealing with people's emotions, bringing together people of different diversities and cultures, mental attitudes, personalities, especially in a start-up environment where there are pressures that are unnatural, it makes it a volatile situation. Learning how to be an effective team and address the issue of people is the most valuable lesson and skill gained from the software management program."

Gladys Mercier, director of the Software Management program, concluded the event thanking everyone who joined in the celebration and who has supported the program during the last decade. "We would not be here today if it were not for all of you! Our program will continue to grow and get stronger because of our accomplished alumni and all of our supporters, both here in the Silicon Valley and in Pittsburgh."


Photos by Sonic Images Group, Inc.
At top, the Integrated Innovation Institute Team, from left: Chris Zeise, Ravi Thomas, Gladys Mercier, Tony Wasserman, Stuart Evans, Sheryl Root with co-directors Peter Boatwright, Eric Anderson and Jonathan Cagan