SDM Alumni Conference, Day 1

On Thursday, I spent the day at MIT for the SDM Alumni Conference. Very well put together and the location (the Broad Institute at MIT) was quite nice.

The day started off with a talk by Paul Carlisle on “Address the Challenges of Distributed Innovation”. And the first sort of case being discussed actually ended up being open source development. It was interesting to sit and listen to how an observer perceives the open source community. And the perception tended to be very positive — to the point of saying how some of the things done in open source could apply to other areas. One of which was research into finding ways to repair the damage of MS. This was incredibly interesting — basically, there has been some improved work here by having researchers share all of their research, the successes as well as the failures, as it happens. And this is pretty similar to how the bugfixing process occurs in open source. One of the big things taken away here is that opening up to more participation in processes helps to foster increased innovation. It's how science has (traditionally) worked, it's how open source works, … Good stuff

The second session of the day was Michael Davies doing an overview of the Technology Strategy class that he teaches each year. This session was really broken down into two pieces. The first was some ideas on how to improve decisison making. Some good bits there. The second part of the session was a quick runthrough of a number of hot topics in technology and strategy. Open source again made an appearance. It's no wonder that all of the students in the program that I've talked with have known about Red Hat and open source and had a reasonable understanding of it. The other hot topics discussed were aesthetics and usability, portfolio management and (again) decision making in R&D. The course already looked interesting, but now I'm really looking forward to taking it this spring.

The last session of the morning was Dan Frey doing an overview of the Systems Engineering course. Sadly, not the most interesting of the presentations. While I think there are some nuggets of usefulness here, they're going to take more time to fully digest and really get to the bottom of. Also, a lot of the material is better suited to more “traditional” engineering disciplines than software.

After lunch, we came back for a pair of talks on “The Internet and the Human Network”. This led off with a talk by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He started out somewhat with a review of how some things on the web have evolved and continue to evolve. One of the important points there was that the rapid feedback cycle has led to a much better experience than is sometimes seen. He then went through some of the challenges facing the web right now — User Interface, Information Policy, Resilience, Collective Quality Assessment, New Devices and Collective Creativity. The final bits were some on the Semantic Web, as most of his presentations seem to be these days (based on looking at the w3c site). While interesting, I don't know that I buy it fully. But, time will tell.

The final session of the day was a guy from Cisco talking a bit about how they use Web 2.0 technologies within Cisco. Not much interesting or different there to those active in open source — wikis, get ideas from anywhere, use emerging social-networking types of sites to build up things further. Interesting tidbits I took away were that search for wikis, internal sites, etc are a problem for everyone and that everyone has too much email to deal with. These are actually specific cases of the more general problem of “information overload” that I think we're having to deal with a lot. I'm not sure what the answer is there, but I suspect it's something I may spend some more time thinking about over the next little bit.

The day finished up with a dinner and reception at the Hyatt overlooking the Charles. Was a good time — got to talk some more with some of the people in my cohort as well as current students and alumni. Also, (more) good food. It's good to see that I'm unlikely to go hungry while in school 🙂