Extreme Blue and Global Village

StudentsThis was a very special week for me as I was privileged to spend a lot of time with students. On Tuesday I met with Extreme Blue interns — top computer science and business students from some of the top universities in America. The Extreme Blue program, which began in 1999 at an IBM facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, operates at a half dozen IBM locations around the world and brings together incredibly talented young people to work on projects for the summer. The students are split into teams of three or four computer science students and a business school student. Each of the projects has a sponsor from somewhere in IBM and a an IBM mentor who provides advice and support during the project.

The projects are very real and result in significant contributions to the company and also to the development of the students. In the final week the students get to present their ideas and progress to senior executives of the company, including the chairman of the board. The projects I saw were impressive and far-reaching focused on database technology to enable doctors to be more effective in prescribing medications or treatments, sophisticated algorithms for provisioning of grid computing resources, a workflow model to improve efficiency for researchers, enhancements for help-desk support for users, and technology to enable IBM consultants to find business partners for specific kinds of client projects. All of the projects were built using using the very latest in open standards technologies.

Extreme Blue interns almost always exceed everyone’s expectations. The thing about students is that they have no “baggage”. They don’t know all the things that may not have worked in the past or all the reasons why something can’t get done in a short period of time. No blinders. Totally uninhibited. They have the summer – all of twelve weeks or so. Whatever it takes, they will get the job done. Students are fearless and tireless. The interns learn a lot about IBM and from their mentors but I think IBM learns even more from the students. How they think and work together. Their attitudes about technology. The trends they see. Their view of the future. It is so uplifting and enriching to talk to the students and learn from them.

It was hard to leave, but at the end of the day I drove to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania so I could spend Wednesday at Lehigh University meeting with Global Village students. The Global Village, organized and run by the The Iacocca Institute, is a program for young professionals and students who share the dream of a leadership career in business and industry. Global Village interns are a diverse group in many respects, coming from different backgrounds, cultures, countries, and languages. This summer there were 83 students from 42 countries.

One of the elements of the Global Village program is enabling the students to interact with executives from large and small corporations, family-owned businesses, and start-up companies. I participated in three separate groups of twenty or so students. Rather than giving a speech, I suggested we talk about the future of the Internet. I threw out a couple of areas for possible discussion and they instantly starting asking questions. We discussed WiFi, spam, blogging, mobile computing, Internet policy, authentication, e-commerce, and many other topics. The students seemed to enjoy it, and I certainly did. As usual, I learned a lot just hearing their questions.

A luncheon was held with the local Rotary Club. There were two guest speakers. The first was Victoria Bechtold who is the current Miss Pennsylvania. After singing "God Bless America", Victoria gave a presentation about the Miss America program and shared her career ambitions. She is already quite an accomplished young woman. Among her many talents, she has trained extensively in voice, piano, violin, and dance. Victoria will compete for the title of Miss America 2005 on September 18. Most of the criteria for the competition is based on academic achievement. Only twenty percent of the scoring is based on swimsuit and evening gown appearance.

Another thing I learned is that the Miss America Organization is one of the nation’s leading achievement programs and the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance. This assistance is not just for the handful of young women who become Miss America, but is available to the over 12,000 young women who compete in the state and local competitions as well.

The second speaker was Dick Brandt, executive director of the Iacocca Institute. Dick talked about "Globalization – Dream or Disaster?". Since Dick worked as an executive in AT&T‘s global operations and has lived all over the world, he was able to personalize his views. He described the issues as he sees them in four parts…

  1. The Dream – From 1990 to 1994, AT&T opened ned 14 country operations in Asia. The Disaster- Production, R&D and technology of the company left the U.S. But – worldwide market share increased significantly.
  2. The Dream- outsourcing creates higher profits, lower inflation, and greater consumer wealth. The Disaster – Outsourcing is killing new jobs, with manufacturing to China and software to India (2.7 million jobs). But – outsourcing is fueling worldwide technology revolution.
  3. The Dream – China’s hunger for raw goods feeds the world. The Disaster – Large sucking sound as raw goods disappear and worldwide places double. But – China is the fastest growing export market in the world.
  4. The Dream – Moving High Tech R&D to foreign countries brings us new ideas, lower prices and quality work. The Disaster – Korean partnership crashed over export control. But – for second year in a row, China has dominant position in worldwide investment dollars, making the world lots of money.

Dick then opened the topic to audience discussion and there was a lot of it. There was a general consensus that globalization is a good thing, although there are obviously a number of challenges. I pointed out that there is a lot of exaggeration going on with regard to software development moving out of America. There are certainly some software jobs being moved but it is primarily the more routine areas such as software maintenance that are being impacted.

The students at my table were from Canada, Azerbaijan, Montana, Armenia, Pennsylvania, and Tajikistan. I asked them what they thought about hearing the stirring rendition of "God Bless America". They all reacted the same — if we had been having lunch on their home turf we may have heard a song praising their country. I stayed after lunch and discussed a lot of world issues with the students. I learned a lot. It was an uplifting and inspiring day. Driving home in torrential rain made me glad that I had not made the last couple of days a motorcycle trip as originally planned.