Fall 1999 Commencement Address

Dr. Mark Dean, an IBM Fellow, member of the Inventor’s Hall of Fame and 1979 UT graduate, gave the fall commencement address Dec. 18. Dr. Dean was chief engineer for development of the IBM personal computer and has more than 30 patents or patents pending. He is a recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award.

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I see that most of you are beaming with pride of your accomplishment, and you should be, and what a time for this accomplishment. In the next two weeks you will receive a college degree, celebrate Christmas and bring-in the new millennium. This is truly great timing. And your parents are elated that there are no more tuition payments, room & board, gasoline bills, book payments, etc., etc.

There may be only two other commitments that could last longer than the time you have spent getting an education-getting married and having your own children. And some of you have actually overlapped these commitments, completing your education while fostering a family.

If so, this is truly a great, great accomplishment. Some of you may be dazed, not yet having time to recover from the many years of continuous studying, testing, reports, projects and finding a parking place. Most of you can-t wait till this ceremony is over-numerous celebrations await your attendance. And maybe a small, select, tiny few of you are wondering, “What’s Next?”

This is what I want to talk to you briefly about-the endless opportunities and challenges that await you and the fact that there are very few limits on your ability to impact and benefit from the development of our global economy and global society.

You are on your way to starting your careers at an extraordinary time. You should congratulate your parents for their timing. They could not have chosen a better time to conceive a child. They have nurtured you through years of frustration and learning to reach the most opportunistic, lucrative and exciting time since the end of World War II.

I will tell you that, for most of you, if you don-t have a job at this point you either aren-t looking or you don-t want one. At no other time has opportunity been so plentiful for all college graduates. If you go back to the 19th century and look at the Industrial Revolution and what it did to change almost everything in the world, or if you go back to the early part of this century and see the revolutions in communications and technology, realizing how these revolutions changed the world, we are about to embark on the first part of the next century with a change that will be so much greater and so much faster that it will make those other two revolutions look tiny in comparison.

One of the keys to success in the next millennium will be the ability to thrive in a diverse environment of cultures, ideas, religions, economies, governments and technologies. We must view diversity as a means to move this country forward and keep it as the greatest country in the world. Success will depend on your ability to accept diversity in your business and social lives; to accept technology and its ability to open new opportunities around the world; to accept the gobalized economy and the technology to make it run efficiently; and to accept other ideas and lead the movement that leverages the talents of all races and cultures to solve many of our common problems.

Those of you open to working beyond the bounds of traditional thinking and explore the opportunities cultural diversity will provide, will lead this country and the world through the inevitable conflicts facing globalization and the technology which will make it possible.

Being an engineer and loving it, obviously I am going to talk about how an individual who embraces and leverages technology can realize opportunities not yet imaged. But you do not need to be a rocket scientist to see the emergence of endless opportunities in the production and delivery of information, products and services to people around the world. Who would have thought Pokemon and Beanie Babies would be world icons. Just think what people would do if you could deliver real information and image what they would pay for it. We are in the beginnings of an information revolution that will allow individual access to new cultures, new ideas, and new businesses; and enable new opportunities for all interested in benefiting from this movement.

View this day as the beginning of the definition of a world that you’re going to live in-the definition of a world that, perhaps, you can shape because the interesting thing about revolutions of this kind is that they give individuals an opportunity to create: to create entirely new things, or perhaps even more importantly, to create new ways to do the tried and true that we all depend on every day. It is a great, great matter of luck to be starting a career in the midst of a period of discontinuity in the world-because it is in a period of discontinuity that winners and losers form. It is in a period of discontinuity when individual creativity has the most value. You have a chance to shape the world in ways your parents and your grandparents never had.

My own career started during a period of discontinuity in the computer industry. And I benefited from creating personal computer technology that enabled individuals to be more productive and creative. It improved the way people accessed and stored information. The changes experienced the past 20 years will pale in scope to the changes and opportunities awaiting you in the new millennium. You will need to decide whether to embrace diversity, change, technology and opportunity, leading society and the economy forward; or consume and follow others. Either is OK because all will benefit.

Fifteen years ago when I read “A Nation at Risk,” the world was still segmented by fairly well-defined borders between nations, markets, and people. Those borders meant it was reasonable to think in terms of protected, isolated or domestic markets. Today, those concepts-and borders that separated us-are being dismantled by two forces: the relentless advance of technological change and global competition on a scale we have never seen before.

For example, the Internet, if leveraged properly, is one of the great equalizers of our time. It is blind to race, sex, religion, ethnicity, social status, location and political beliefs. This technology can help eliminate many old constraints to individual opportunity. There is simply no longer any question that every citizen lives in a diversified society and every institution operates in a global economy. Both are driven by the rapid advancement of technology and the instant access to information.

Beginning now, and for as far as we can see in the future, the thing that will separate winners and losers among institutions, industries, and even nations will be the ability to use information-to learn and to build a business culture based on knowledge. Information is the new world currency and wealth will be measured by how much information a company, individual or country can create, distribute, accumulate and mine. And successful mining of information-analyzing data for trends and habits-the equivalent of mining for diamonds-will be the differentiator. Gaining a better understanding of the buried, unrecognized content in everyday transactions will be analogous to making gold from coal.

Therefore, you are either going to consume information, create information, distribute information, mine information or hopefully, do all four. We all consume information-watching TV or reading a newspaper or magazine-and we all create information. For example, buying groceries, applying for a loan or getting a speeding ticket. The information being saved today in vast storage bins of companies and institutions will fuel opportunities to provide new, safer and more profitable products and services.

The differentiator for our country is not going to be our technology. Everyone will have access to the same technologies. The differentiator is going to be the talent of our workforce, our access to new information and our ability to understand and leverage that information. Jobs that today require low to moderate skills are in decline, while demand soars for highly skilled applicants who command higher pay, like yourselves. The more talented and educated the workforce, the greater the opportunities for success. Graduate level education is becoming a must.

Three years ago, we didn’t even have an adequate word or phrase for what is happening. We now call it “e-business.” And at its core, this e-business revolution is about the urgent search for new models. New models of commerce, marketing and distribution-new models of governance, of education and health care delivery. And the key to development of new models is the information to support their fundamental development. Therefore, in the next millennium the more information and knowledge a country-s workforce has access to, the greater the wealth of its individuals, their businesses and their cultures.

In exactly the same way new technology will overturn existing business models and eliminate age-old barriers to market entry, it will move on to transform market structures and create entirely new kinds of markets. This applies to markets of all kinds-goods and services, commodities, capital, health care services, education and entertainment. And with a transformation in markets will come a transformation in global awareness, cultural diversity and a broader social mix. This does not imply giving up your present culture, religion or social beliefs. But this does imply understanding and working with a broad range of cultures and beliefs. This understanding, acceptance and the ability to break barriers in personal and business relationships will help you and our nation thrive in the emerging globalization.

The United States, with its existing mix of cultures, is best situated to thrive as globalization progresses, but we must break through existing barriers to cultural diversity before we can lead our nation and the world forward. We do not have to agree in our beliefs, culturally, politically or spiritually. But we do have to agree to work together and listen to each other. Increased awareness and understanding will make us conscious of where we are and how we as a nation can move forward.

Being a “nerdie” engineer I can-t help but give you a few examples of how technology will impact our lives. Imagine being able to teach or interact directly with each individual in a class or meeting without anyone being in the same city, state or country, or speaking the same language. And imagine being able to interact on a single problem instantaneously using interactive diagrams, graphs and charts. Just imagine what can be taught, learned or resolved without constraints of location, language or room size. Imagine being able to receive all the books, reference material, tests, forms and parking permits you need for four years of college on a device the size of a quarter.

Imagine having another device the size and weight of a spiral notebook that can display this and all other types of information as well as serve as your phone, radio, TV, DVD player, music recorder, game machine, Internet browser and garage door opener.

Imagine computers that can simulate the operation of human cells, organs or diseases and show how they react to experimental drugs, thus eliminating the need to experiment on animals or humans before clear evidence exist that these substances are safe. Imagine tiny microscopic electronic devices with special sensors which when injected into the blood stream detect and attach to cancer cells or the AIDS virus, eliminating these horrible diseases. Or similar devices that could repair damage caused by heart disease.

All these things and many others are possible. They just need someone like yourself to develop the missing element, create the new process, foster the new theory or nurture the next generation to create these and other marvelous inventions.

In closing, I want to give you some principles that I have found help me organize my career and make progress on issues of importance to me. Many of these you have heard before and may be obvious, but they are easily overlooked and can make the difference between success and unrealized opportunity.

Establish career goals and objectives: This will help you make decisions as opportunities appear.

Be flexible: There are many ways to solve a problem, be open to all possibilities.

Make decisions and accept responsibility: This builds Sustainable Respect.

Develop good communication skills: Good communication skills will compensate for other deficiencies. As long as you sound like you know what you are talking about the content becomes secondary.

Learn from others’ history and experiences: One thing I dislike is people that make the same mistakes generation after generation.

Be patient and open: The key in being a good leader is leveraging the skills of a diverse team versus building a team of people like yourself.

Lastly and most important-enjoy what you-re doing: Life is short.

Thank you for your time and good luck.