Friday, December 14, 2012

Alvaro Madero, SDM '12: Trekking to Silicon Valley

By Lynne Weiss

Alvaro Madero
Photo by Kathy
Tarantola Photography
While SDM '12 Alvaro Madero was still working toward his B.S. in electronic systems engineering at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico, he and a friend were hired to reconfigure 250 routers that had come with the wrong firmware. "The client expected us to take about a week to complete, but we did it in 10 hours." Madero went on to explain that he and his friend used a virtual keyboard that allowed them to enter the reconfiguration just once. "Then we ran it 250 times."

The company that hired Madero to do that job was a startup named CARSA (Consultoria y Asesoria de Redes S.A. — Consulting and Assessment on Networks). Needless to say, CARSA was eager to hire Madero when he finished school. At first his role was to provide technical support to the sales team, but over time, he shifted to consulting in pre-sales meetings to develop strategy.

When Madero decided to pursue a graduate degree, he realized that he did not want to stop being an engineer to pursue a conventional MBA. Nor did he want to limit himself to a technical degree. In 2010 he discovered SDM on the MIT website and realized "this is what I want: a combination of engineering and business."

Shortly after matriculating in SDM in January 2012, Madero joined the 2012 SDM Tech Trek, the first in several years. The trek took about 25 SDM fellows to California's Silicon Valley, where they visited eight different companies, including Tesla, First Solar, Silver Springs, TIBCO, Yammer, Cisco, Google, and Intel.

Madero was so enthusiastic about the trek that he volunteered to co-lead the next one, scheduled for March 25-29, 2013. In creating an itinerary, he and co-lead Michael Seelhoff first sought out contacts within targeted companies across various industries who understand the strategic value of bridging the gap between engineering and management. "Most professionals who have managed projects involving engineers understand how SDM [fellows] can add value," Madero said.

Because one company wanted to interview visiting SDM students in 2012, this year's trek will allow time for interviews, in addition to group tours. The 2013 trek will include both companies visited last year and new ones as well.

For Madero, who sees his future in IT, the SDM Tech Trek offers an opportunity to get to know the companies and their cultures firsthand. "From the outside, we can only imagine what it might be like to work in a company," Madero explained. "But it's a whole different experience to see it from the inside."

Companies interested in hosting a visit to their facilities by SDM fellows should contact Joan S. Rubin, Industry Co-director, System Design and Management.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SDM Fellow Establishes MIT's First Mining Club

By Sarah Foote, News@MITSloan

Juan Esteban Montero
Photo by Kathy
Tarantola Photography
Shortly after Juan Esteban Montero began MIT's System Design and Management program last January, he looked for students who shared his passion for the natural resources industry. He was able to find only a few students at MIT Sloan with this interest. Seeking out ways to meet other MIT students interested in mining led Montero to create MIT's Mining, Oil, and Gas Club (MOG).

"The club is doing very well thanks to a great group of leaders. We started with just five students from MIT Sloan and mechanical engineering and now have 120 members from all five schools at MIT," Montero said. "We started with small events and then created a lecture series to bring experts to campus. Many MIT students are now learning about the challenges of the natural resources industries and at the same time, these industries are interested in the projects and research MIT students are working on."

Montero noted that the club has also sparked interest outside of MIT. "The Chilean government has expressed an interest in working with MOG. Universities in Canada and Japan are also interested in the club's research, and people from everywhere are getting in touch with us. Today, we received an email from the Yazd University of Iran expressing interest in our club."

Montero believes MOG will continue to grow and has a lot of potential for its members. "Two companies have asked if they can come to campus to recruit MIT students. We haven't even reached out to recruiters yet, so this is a great opportunity for our members," he said. "We're creating a career director position within the club to represent it in a more formal way. We also plan to connect with MIT's career fair to make sure mining companies are represented in the future."

From Chile to Cambridge
Growing up in Santiago, Chile, Montero wanted to be an engineer as a child. Mining in Chile is a major component of the country's economy, and Montero wanted his career to have an impact on society, and he knew that mining was the way to achieve this.

"I really enjoyed working in the mining industry because it is the main industry of the Chilean economy and my work had an impact on the country. I was lucky to work for the most important mining company in the world, BHP Billiton, and see the impact of my work in different aspects − such as creating jobs. As my responsibilities grew, I knew I wanted to expand my managerial and engineering skills," Montero said. "I conducted research online to find a master's degree program that would combine my interests and that's when I found SDM. Coming to MIT is the best decision I've ever made. The community here is inspiring and I'm really enjoying SDM and MIT."

As part of his SDM degree requirements, Montero will write a thesis on the mining industry. (SDM is jointly offered by MIT Sloan and the MIT Engineering Systems Division). His research will include the application of flexibility in the engineering design of major mining projects. He is working with Professor Richard de Neufville on the project.

"It takes months, millions of dollars, and a lot of disciplines to design mines. I want to look into different alternatives in a way that is less expensive and easier to compute. I want to find ways for mining companies to explore opportunities that are not visible with current methodology," Montero said. "Every class I have taken at MIT has been amazing from the managerial and the technical side — and all of them will be helpful as I work on my thesis."

Montero's interest in mining and energy doesn't end with the club or his thesis — he is also a business development researcher for BroadRock Renewables, a clean technology company based in New York.

"I'm working on a market research project for BroadRock. I got this opportunity through SDM and I'm learning a lot from it," Montero said. "MIT is also giving me the opportunity to visit with Keio University's SDM Department in Tokyo this January. I'll work with them on a systems thinking approach for the mining industries in South America and Japan to collaborate. Japan is a very important stakeholder of the natural resources industry and shares significant commonalities with Chile as a major seismic country."

Note— Students who are interested in joining the Mining, Oil, and Gas Club should visit the website or send an email to the club officers.

Monday, December 3, 2012

SDM's James Utterback: burgeoning innovation where technology streams collide

James Utterback
Where diverse streams of knowledge and technology collide one may find exceptional opportunity for innovation. James Utterback is the David J. McGrath jr (1959) Professor of Management and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Professor of Engineering Systems within the MIT Engineering Systems Division. His research focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship. In collaboration with Simon Fraser University's Elicia Maine, Utterback analyzed startups that span nanotechnology and biotechnology and found that the companies that brought together materials, chemistry, physics and biology were more successful. "Creativity is a combinatorial process," said Utterback. "The more elements and chances there are to combine, the more you can expect to have startups and innovations."

Utterback is slated to moderate a symposium titled Confluence of Streams of Knowledge: Biotechnology and Nanotechnology that Maine and he organized for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston in February, 2013. Speakers at the symposium include such luminaries as MIT's Robert Langer and Caltech's Nathan Lewis.

The symposium will cover examples like tissue engineering, which brings together developmental biology, engineering and materials. Speakers will draw the distinction between traditional interdisciplinary collaboration, where specialists work on separate parts of projects, and work at the confluence of technology streams, where there is concurrent multidisciplinary collaboration.

The overall hypothesis can be generalized in lots of ways, said Utterback. Companies that have a greater range of users might produce more innovations, or fields where users are active and have tools to help create products might be more innovative, he said. Similarly, firms that organize multidisciplinary laboratories such as historically Bell Labs and Xerox PARC might be expected to create important innovations. "It's a matter of how many connections are being made and how many sparks can be struck."

Utterback was the Technology Management Section (TMS) Distinguished Speaker at the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) 2012 annual meeting in October. His talk, titled "An Ecology of Innovation," calls for thinking of new products as experiments in the market. Innovation and startups are processes of experimentation that create and exploit rapid changes in the market. Typically established firms invest heavily in development efforts long past the time that rewarding improvements might be expected. Rather than seeking to reduce uncertainty and concentrate effort, companies might consider fostering greater experimentation, Utterback said. He is writing a book on the subject with Boston University's Fernando Suárez.

Utterback is a founding faculty member of the SDM program as well as the Sloan Fellows in Innovation and Global Leadership, and the Leaders for Global Operations programs. "I like fields where engineering and management come together," he said.

The goal of the SDM program is to build up the skills and effectiveness of people who design reliable and effective complex systems, said Utterback. He gives the students in the program high praise. "It's a lot of fun to teach them; they always have new questions," he said. "You can never anticipate everything they're going to bring into the classroom." A key advantage the SDM program offers is its emphasis on primary sources over textbooks, said Utterback. "SDM is bringing a lot of current research into the classroom, which is one of MIT's traditional strengths."