CMU West offers tour de Silicon Valley

Carnegie Mellon’s West Coast campus, situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, stands inside NASA’s Moffett Field facility. The facility — a place of innovation in itself — has seen everything from airships to space shuttles and is now managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center. Last week, Carnegie Mellon alumni in the area organized a tour of Silicon Valley with help from Dean James Morris of CMU West. The various alumni and representatives from the different corporations detailed their professional lives in order to help tour members understand what career options lay ahead.

The week began with a presentation on the art of venture capital by Scott Russell (SCS, BS, ’82), a general partner in Diamondhead Ventures. Russell outlined his career, the important decisions he made, his reasoning behind those decisions, and tips on getting into the venture capital market. The rest of the day was spent at the Googleplex, Google’s headquarters. A tour of the Googleplex involved some exotic things never seen in corporate offices: swimming pools and laundry machines. Google’s Building 43 contained a monitor with a globe of the Earth that showed real-time query activity around the world. Every time someone used Google, a dot lit up at his or her position on the globe.

Intel Corporation’s headquarters are located in Santa Clara, just southeast of Google’s home in Mountain View. The Intel museum chronicled the history of how the first microprocessors
were made and how they have changed the world. At Intel, the group was greeted by Richard B. Wirt, vice president and general manager of the Software and Solutions Group and an Intel senior fellow. Wirt is the only person at Intel with both VP and senior fellow titles. Wirt’s presentation revolved around how software is of strategic importance to Intel. Often when people think of Intel, they think of computer hardware, but Intel requires software engineers too, since they are critical for verification, testing, and directing the future of hardware. Thus, as Wirt explained, Intel is keen to attract computer science students as well as computer engineers. By the end of the evening it was quite apparent that Carnegie Mellon was very important to Intel.

Early the next morning, the group had a lecture from David Steier (SCS, PhD, ’89), who works for the Center for Advanced Research, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Steier talked about working for professional services and discussed some of the research PWC is currently working on, including fraud detection. Fraud detection could reveal that fraud has occurrred before the issue becomes a big problem and investors lose millions.

After Steier’s talk, the group headed to Broadcom Corporation, where it was shown how computer software and hardware come together to make a complete product. Broadcom showed the tour group a different side to software industry: embedded systems, which are present in almost every electronic device sold. For example, each of the millions of Apple iPods sold has one or more Broadcom chips in it, along with specific software for its function. Interestingly, Broadcom has created a very different semiconductor market from Intel’s and has been very successful at it. Even so, it was clear that there was competition between Intel and Broadcom. It was exciting to see this since it called for constant pioneering innovation and expansion in these companies. This was one of the great things about Silicon Valley — everyone was competitive and innovative, yet the environment allowed for great collaboration.

Although the venture capital market is not booming, there are a few companies that have been very successful and are growing at an incredible rate — Google is a prime example. The trip showed tour members that there are many career paths that do not all lead to a desk job. One could always go and start one’s own company, a very possible task. In the field of computer science and engineering, a person could have a life full of learning, growth, challenges, and risks.

CMU West has programs in software engineering with tracks to match each individual’s aspirations. Students interested in going the extra mile, especially in computer science and business, should consider using the great resources provided by CMU West. In the next boom, many of the amazing students from Carnegie Mellon will be leading the way.