Anyone that talks to me or digs around my website probably knows that I'm pretty deeply involved in a lot of things. Graduate school over the last few weeks has been taking up most of my time, doing research related to computer science as well as public policy, and I've just been busy digging into things. As part of my research on distributed innovation for my public policy class, Technology, Regions, and Policy, I'm reading Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat." I've gotten about 1/3 of the way through it so far and it, along with some discussions with some people at work got me thinking, I've gotten myself into a pretty specific niche and it's going to be very interesting where it takes me. (Click read more)
[As an aside, I don't know how I feel about the book, It does put things together in a way that is probably new to a lot of people but it's certainly not news to me and a couple of things are misleading to people not familiar with the technology involved. Friedman refers to BitTorrent as "a Web site that allows users to upload their online music libraries and download other people's at the same time" when it's more along the lines of a model to allow users to download parts of a piece content from multiple sources at the same time while having to allow other users to download from them the parts that the they have already downloaded. He also doesn't explain some things such as Open Source Software as thoroughly as I might like in a book for his intended target audience (judging from the tone of the book) and he uses some generalizations that I think are a bit too general. My thoughts may change by the time I finish it, but we'll see. ]
Here's a couple of the things that have run through my mind about the overlap of the things that I do:
The isolation of specialization: Minoring in public policy and now taking a graduate public policy class as a free elective has given me a more diverse experience than most of my CS peers. Public policy is a very different thing and I like that I can get away from the computer and read things that relate to "real life." I never expected to take it as far as I have, but here I am writing paper after paper for it and I've developed some pretty strong feelings about some things that I can back up if you want to talk to me about them. As far as public policy and CS, one thing has been very obvious to me the entire time: People in one field usually aren't familiar with the other. Computer scientists don't usually understand how government policy affects the work that they do (funding is the most common exception) and the number of CSs that don't understand intellectually property rights is astounding. Software being open source doesn't mean that people cannot make money off of your work without paying you, and people need to read, understand, and be very careful about what rights they sign away to employers and partners. The same is true on the other side, Policy people don't know enough about the technology to make some decisions that need to be made. Net Neutrality is a perfect example of this, it has been turned into a binary issue, either yes or no to it, and neither of the versions being pushed on the masses are an accurate representation of the problem or the solution. That is another issue for another day, but people (policy makes especially) need to be informed about the technology and technological implications of policy issues like net neutrality. (Wikipedia's article on net neutrality sums up a lot of information about it if you want to read more about this, but I don't feel like their interpretation is complete.) I'm involved in CS and Public Policy and it looks like it's going to stay that way.
Its all networking: Networking is really the enabler and driver of everything. As one of my coworkers at RNOC pointed out, pretty much all of the 10 forces that Friedman describes as "flatteners" (things that super charge globalization and it's benefits) are networking. Networks enable sharing of ideas and information, they enable basic human rights by allowing the tiniest voice to be hear: for truth to be exposed from behind the lines of oppressive regimes such as Iran and China, and they provide a platform for almost everything that our society depends on to excel and grow. I work, study, sleep, and eat networking.
Needed overlap isn't there: Research and operations need to overlap and things need to "get out" to change the world. University startups led to much of the high tech innovation in the united states, first around Route 128 in Boston, followed by the explosion in Silicon Valley. Google started as a research paper and project at Stanford. There is currently a buzz in the venture capital and startup fields on technology incubators, small startup companies taking university research and turning it into a business. However, even with all of these success stories, much more could be done. My work at Georgia Tech is focused around this overlap. RNOC does research and provides data to other researchers from a production network. The GT network is the testbed for everything we do and it's important that the work we do provides value to the research community as well as value to the end users of the network, but the situation could still be better: the Networking and Telecommunications Group at Tech (which I'm also a part of) is the group at the College of Computing at tech that deals with networking. Past interaction between RNOC and the NTG has mostly been limited to RNOC getting data to NTG and some students from NTG working on projects for RNOC, but my search for project advisers, PhD letters, and course credit has led to a flurry of emails between NTG and RNOC people which has heightened interest in collaboration on some interesting problems in network monitoring that should lead to some exciting projects and developments in the next few years.
I'm in the middle of all of this and some of the fundamental issues effect the future are also going to effect my future: am I going to go into "production" or stay as research. I'm going to apply for the CS PhD program at tech, though I'm not 100% sure that I'd go for it if they accept me. I need to solve problems that have real world impact and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes for me to stay in the academic community where it seems like there are more human and physical resources to make things happen. I probably should try something out at a "real" company before committing, so I'll probably see about a Google internship next summer, but maybe not..