Rethinking IT: Why Computer Scientists Should Care about Art, Chemistry and Biology - InformationWeek

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Jeff Welser, VP and Lab Director, IBM Research - Almaden
Jeff Welser, VP and Lab Director, IBM Research - Almaden

Rethinking IT: Why Computer Scientists Should Care about Art, Chemistry and Biology

Career advice for computer scientists and IT professionals: Talk to, listen to, and work with your peers in a multi-disciplinary environment.

Topping the hills of Santa Teresa County Park in south San Jose, Calif., IBM’s West Coast research and development lab is home to some of Silicon Valley’s now-ubiquitous tech innovations. Home of the first hard disk drive, early relational database technology and, today, novel artificial intelligence chip development, the common theme underlying the vision of the lab over the past 30-plus years has always been data.

One of the first things I think about with any new project at our San Jose lab, IBM Research - Almaden is: What is a new source of data that we haven’t tried yet?

This relatively new way of thinking creates new pathways for solving problems, such as using metagenomics for food safety. As we find more and more ways of processing data, the opportunities for finding new data sets and getting new value out of data only increases. We can leverage data and tools, including AI and cloud computing, to solve earth’s most difficult problems.

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

I’m fortunate to work with a team of people who are passionate about creating technology that will benefit society. And each of them comes from a non-traditional background -- geographically, culturally, professionally and personally -- that inspires their own unique beliefs and interests, while helping each other see new ways of thinking.

For our researchers to find a new drug, create a new user interface, or help doctors find cancer in patients, they need to care deeply about what they do. And, we have to create new ways of thinking to find solutions that will fit any specific problem. Our diverse group of researchers, from computer scientists, biologists, chemists and designers, merge their knowledge to know what problems are worth solving to start with. We need that combination of skills if we are really going to combine novel technology, thoughts and ideas to impact the real world.

What I have come to find is the future of computing is in diversity of thought, whether in data or academic disciplines. Society cannot fear technology advancements, but instead needs to stay open minded to how innovation can improve the world we live in.

One of the most important pieces of advice that I received early in my career was to always be willing to talk to the woman in the office next door, or the guy down the hall. Find out what they are doing and how are they doing it. Take it all in. At first, I didn’t really understand why that was going to be so important, and I mostly focused on talking to people in my same field of study because that’s where I felt comfortable.

But, over time, I realized by interacting with people who are working in software, chemistry, polymers, or hard disk drive solutions, I was able to see things I would not have been able to see day to day and find new connections to my own work. I think that’s really critical. The more we can find ways in our daily interactions to learn from each other’s different perspectives, the faster we are going to move forward.

Jeff Welser is vice president and Lab Director, IBM Research - Almaden. Today the lab specializes in areas including: Watson technologies, storage systems, data management and analytics, nanotechnology, materials science, Web 2.0 technologies and IBM Smarter Planet projects, such as healthcare informatics, water desalination and electric car batteries. Dr. Welser received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University . Welser holds 21 US Patents and has published over 75 technical papers and presentations. He is a member of the IBM Academy of Technology, an IEEE Fellow, a member of the American Physical Society, and has served on numerous Federal agency and Congressional panels on advanced semiconductor technology.

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