Bill shares his thoughts on technology trends, and how Olin has enabled him to build his software outsourcing firm, Deterministic Programming. He talks about lessons learned from academia and industry.
"Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has."
At Olin, I learned the value that a single individual could bring to humanity. College became my respite from the immediate concerns of daily life. I became immersed in a culture of big thinkers, and it was refreshing and eye-opening, to say the least. My professors empowered me to think about grand topics, such as "the future of engineering education" and "automated medical diagnosis software".
This visionary thinking was coupled with actionable, do-learn techniques, which brought a tangible form to anything that inspired me. By understanding how to program a PIC microcontroller, I created a mechatronic piano player, during my second year.
The environment was driven by merit and the development of useful projects. The students were not concerned with grades, but rather with what people actually made. This view helped us strive for a meaningful, concrete and lasting impact in the world.
Lessons Learned in the Real World
TopCoder, my first "real" job after Olin, was the ideal place to learn a major part of what it takes to make a lasting impact -- the multiplying of effort. We ran competitions to create digital assets--crowdsourced software. My corner of the digital world was algorithm development; competitors submitted code that solved a particular task, for NASA or others. Our servers executed the code, then scored the winners, and payment was awarded.
The firm is on the cutting edge of "getting work done" in a global economy. This lesson likely could only have been learned in industry, as it is inherently difficult for an academic institution to teach this directly.
At Olin, a lot of effort is placed on personal growth, and learning to learn. Since students are equals, it is tough for a single person to command the work output of more than a handful of others.
In contrast to a university setting, at TopCoder I directed hundreds of thousands of potential workers and the possibilities seemed endless. Instead of all of these people working on each problem, they self-selected so that the best of the best attempted particular tasks.
TopCoder taught me the discipline required to work from home, how to prospect for clients and the power of multiplying my effort through managing others. After my time there, I feel I am poised to take full advantage of the opportunities of outsourcing.
Deterministic Programming, Outsourcing and Beyond
Pulling together all my experience from development to project management, and thinking about software trends, I arrived at Deterministic Programming, my outsource software firm. At Deterministic Programming, we utilize a unique perspective by keeping management stateside, and outsourcing coding.
Outsourcing is a major trend I'm looking to work with in the foreseeable future, and I see it as a positive development for every party involved. Through innovation, collaboration has become effortless, especially in creating software.
For the employer, services are bought cheaply, and with nominal organizational overhead. For the employees, they are able to specialize, dramatically increasing their learning and potential market value, as well as being able to offer this specialization to the marketplace globally.
Currently I serve as the UX Product Manager, the Technical Project Manager, and virtual CTO.
Through outsourcing, I soon hope to serve solely as a technical advisor and replace my two management roles with specialists, who are better equipped to handle this type of work. This will allow me to focus on CTO responsibilities for other companies.
The "Olin Bubble"
The world of Olin is quite the opposite of the distributed, hierarchical environment I live in these days.
Being absorbed in the "Olin Bubble", I learned the importance of networking, quite indirectly. I discovered the Cambridge Innovation Center, a startup co-working space. I kept finding myself in the space, as I became more intimate with the Boston and Cambridge startup scene.
To bring these two spheres together, I hosted a summer "Welcome to Olin" party for incoming freshmen. We had the largest turnout of any party of its kind at Olin and, overlooking the Charles River, we viewed the scenic Boston skyline. I think incoming students made quality contacts with alumni in the area.
A Bright Future from an Olin Past
Olin College provided me with the solid technical foundations and the skyward perspective, to take to the real world and begin to make a difference. When partnered with cutting edge business practices I think I have found a winning combination.
The journey has just begun, and Olin has been a valued launch pad.