Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 SDM Tech Trek Report - SDM Pulse, Summer 2013

The annual MIT SDM Tech Trek provides an opportunity for SDM fellows to engage with leading companies to discuss strategic, operational, and tactical challenges from both business and technical perspectives. The 2013 visit to Silicon Valley exposed fellows (who have an average of 8-10 years of experience in a single field) to a wide variety of industries in a short amount of time. Fellows met with senior managers at best-in-class companies to learn about their complex technical and business challenges and how they address them. Designed to build upon the students’ coursework at MIT, the trek enabled students to tour facilities, view product demonstrations, and engage in lively and informative question and answer sessions with industry leaders. This year’s trek was led by cochairs Alvaro Madero and Michael Seelhoff, both SDM ’13s, and organized by several SDM fellows.

•    Expand students’ knowledge of complex challenges across several industries
•    Strengthen relationships between the companies and SDM

Companies visited:

•    Cisco (network and communications devices)
•    Google (Internet information provider)
•    Amazon Lab126 (consumer products)
•    E.&J. Gallo Winery (food and beverages)
•    Intuitive Surgical (medical devices)
•    Twitter (Internet communications)
•    Mission Motors (automotive)

Trip highlights:

•    At Intuitive Surgical, Catherine Mohr, M.D., the director of medical research, discussed the DaVinci robotic surgical system, including the specific product’s history and the history of laparoscopic surgery in general. Mohr demonstrated how the device worked, explained many of the decisions that went into its final design, and offered each tech trek visitor a chance to try the multimillion-dollar device. Fellows also toured the manufacturing facilities to see how the device’s surgical arms and body were constructed. Students found it extremely informative to investigate the end-to-end processes used to create such a precise technological device, including the challenges the company encountered and the techniques used to overcome them. Mohr, who holds a S.B. and an S.M. from MIT, also discussed her decision to pursue an M.D. at Stanford, as well as her career path. Many SDMs came away inspired by the versatility of their MIT education, which can be applied to many industries.

•    SDM alumnus Juan Spiniak hosted the visit to Google. He presented an overview of the company and its products, plus a close-up of Google Fiber, the Internet service provider that he manages. Jim Miller, Google’s vice president of worldwide operations, discussed the company’s infrastructure and global operations. He emphasized that the company is interested in professionals who want to engage in “intrapraneurship” (behaving like an entrepreneur within a large company) and making a difference. Miller said he wants to use Google’s computing power to help analyze the human genome.

•    At Cisco, SDM fellows met with several SDM alumni, including Carol Ann McDevitt and Rafael Maranon. They were treated to a hands-on demonstration of Cisco’s current telepresence technology, then heard a presentation by Susie Wee, vice president and CTO of networked experiences, who provided some insight into the product’s future path. She also shared lessons she has learned along the way, from earning her degree at MIT to becoming a VP at Cisco.

•    At Mission Motors, Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Rosenzweig gave a tour of the company’s operations, which included the workshop where electric motorcycle models are built, the battery charging and component design/fabrication facilities, and the software development area. CEO Jit Bhattacharya described the history of the electric vehicle industry, challenges experienced in this still-maturing market, and areas in which a system thinker could provide value. The visit demonstrated that creative ideas and emerging markets are not enough to build a company. External market development—in this case, evolution of battery technology and infrastructure—plays a critical role in supporting innovation. Mission Motors demonstrated that flexibility in the business plan was essential to keeping the company moving forward while the critical elements of the external market developed.

Key takeaways:
•    Face-to-face meetings with senior executives gave companies an opportunity to learn more about SDM and understand the competitive advantage that developing or enhancing a systems capability in their organizations can bring.
•    Meeting and engaging with SDM fellows offered opportunities for companies to experience first-hand the unique perspective and skills SDMs acquire at MIT and to identify future graduates to recruit.
•    SDM fellows returned to MIT with an expanded understanding of how versatile and applicable their SDM education is.

SDM Tech Trek 2014:
Planning for the next SDM Tech Trek is already under way. If your company would like to learn about participating, please contact Joan Rubin, SDM industry codirector at or 617.253.2081.

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