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How did Rensselaer help?

The panelists were (of course) asked what they learned from their experiences at Rensselaer.

Lynch talked about how the technology he interacts with every day is very different from what he learned at school, and said what was most important was that “education provided me with a vocabulary that enabled me to talk to other engineers.”


Zander said that Rensselaer gave him an appreciation of engineering and how that, plus the MBA he received later, helped him in “the decision-making I use every day.” He added, “The RPI part was the ability to think logically and get to the point quickly and scope out problems.”

Schmaier represented the younger generation of this group; in fact, he talked about being in the first class at Rensselaer where the PC was introduced as a standard teaching tool. He recalled one particular class at Rensselaer, where “some students were building a company called MapInfo,” and that taught him that “software was becoming clearly equal to hardware.”

My own answer to the question was that the best part of RPI was the opportunity to learn about a lot of different kinds of technologies, and to work on the Poly. It gave me a framework as to how to ask about different things, and that has worked well for me because as a technology magazine editor, I am always seeing something new.

Huang, of course, was not a Rensselaer graduate, but he did point out that he chose to start a firm with an RPI grad as his chief technical officer.

A time for entrepreneurs

Believing passionately in what you’re doing is a major key to success in these fast-changing times, said the panelists, all of whom are big believers in the power of entrepreneurship. All of the panelists agreed that it is harder for a start-up to get funded than it was a couple of years ago, but they said it still could be done.

Zander noted that companies like Sun and Cisco were founded during the downturn of the early ’80s, while Huang said that NVIDIA was the only fab-less semiconductor company (a chip company that does design, but not its own manufacturing) funded the year it was started.

Huang offered some advice for would-be entrepreneurs: “Unless you are passionate about what you do, you are going to get crushed. That’s why so many start-ups don’t make it.”

Still, Zander said, “If you’ve got some great ideas, go for it; that’s what makes the industry so great.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of great things out over the past few years and there are a lot of great companies, and there are a lot of great people thinking about new companies, so I’m pretty positive,” Schmaier said. “But we’ve got to get through the next year or two, clean out the bad business models, and get on with running our businesses. We’re going to be a great industry.”

That pretty much fits in with my own observations—technology has become a major influence on the way we conduct our business and personal lives. We’ve done a lot with the technology we have, but there’s plenty of room both to invent new technology and to use the technology we do have to improve business, communications, and the standard of living across the globe.

As Huang noted, “How often do you get an opportunity to work on things that you honestly, deeply, feel will change the world and touch people’s lives? I think that’s terrific.”
 
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The Panelists
(Photos by Glenn Matsumura)
huangJen-Hsun Huang, president, CEO, and co-founder of NVIDIA Corp. Prior to NVIDIA’s founding in 1993, Huang worked at LSI Logic Corp., a computer chip manufacturer, where he held a variety of positions including director of coreware, the business unit responsible for LSI’s “system-on-a-chip” strategy. Huang holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Oregon State University and an M.S.E.E. degree from Stanford University.
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LynchJohn Lynch ’60, partner and chair of the intellectual property practice at Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Lynch is devoted to intellectual property law, principally in the patent litigation area. With such clients as Monsanto, Rockwell International, Intel, and Merck & Co., Lynch has litigated major patent cases in all courts including the United States Supreme Court. Lynch holds a B.S. in chemical engineering from Rensselaer and a J.D. from Fordham University.
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LynchMichael Miller ’79 (panel moderator), editor-in-chief of PC Magazine since 1991. Miller is an accomplished journalist who has become a leader for the computer industry through his experience in testing products and evaluating and writing about software issues. He writes the “Forward Thinking” column for the magazine, which has become the world’s largest technology publication. He also serves as editorial director of Ziff Davis Media. Miller has a B.S. in computer science from Rensselaer and an M.S. in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
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LynchDavid Schmaier ’85, executive vice president at Siebel Systems. Schmaier has led Siebel Systems’ products organization since the company’s inception and is a member of the Siebel Founder’s Circle and executive management team. Prior to Siebel Systems, Schmaier worked at Oracle Corp., where he was responsible for the marketing of Oracle manufacturing, Oracle’s suite of enterprise resource planning applications. Schmaier has a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
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LynchEd Zander ’68, former president and COO of Sun Microsystems. Before joining Sun in 1987, Zander held leadership positions at Apollo Computer and Data General. Zander earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rensselaer and an MBA from Boston University.

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Rensselaer Magazine: September 2002
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In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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