The Big Red Apple in NYC

Came back from a Northern California Cornell Event tonight in Menlo Park.

(I know, I only attend Cornell alumni events unless it’s within 10 minutes drive from where I live or where I work, right… )

I was actually drawn by the topic/speaker of the event. The dean of Cornell NYC Tech Campus came to the silicon valley to give an update on Cornell’s plan building the NYC Tech Campus and its curriculum programs.

Last year, Cornell won this ‘bid’ in NYC (believe was competing with Stanford) and will be building a tech campus on 1/3 of Roosevelt island in NYC for graduate programs, primarily graduate students interested in Tech and Entrepreneurship. To NYC, it’s an huge effort to catch up with west coast tech centers such as Silicon Valley and Seattle.

The dean Dan Huttenlocher is a very good speaker, with great manner and tempo cultivated from years of academia experience. A few interesting facts learned from the event tonight are:

  • The tech campus starts in January 2013, with 15 students recruited from existing Cornell master student body.
  • Unfortunately, no international students are allowed at this stage, as DHS still needs to review all the criteria needed for foreign students to be accepted by programs in this Tech Campus.
  • Before the tech campus takes off, Google has generously offered some of its office spaces to Cornell to host courses and events.
  • Twitter’s former CTO (Greg Pass) now full time works for Cornell Tech Campus, and is recruiting industry talents and entrepuernuers to offer courses and become industry mentors for graduate students in the Tech campus.
  • By 2017 (which is only 5 yrs from now, sounds so dauntingly future and yet, CLOSE!), at least 3 buildings will be ready for classes, student dorms and supporting facilities. The rest of the campus areas will be occupied by industry offices, co-working spaces, depending on the amount of donation and industry support Cornell may get. Itself is a fund raising project.

I remember going back to Cornell back in May, and met with my former advisors in grad school after I’ve been out in the bay area for 2 years. They asked me, how did the graduate level of courses prepared you for industry?

To be honest, I’d say, in terms of mindset and learning skills, I benefited a lot from the courses and doing research with faculties, but in terms of real world hands-on experience, very minimum. The fact that Cornell locates in upstate New York, and when New York’s no long the center of everything, especially in the tech field, makes it more difficult for interdisciplinary students (info science, user experience, communication, etc.) to stay in the game.

I’ve met with graduate students from Stanford, since the valley’s so close, it’s literally a part-time job from their full time schooling to get hands-on experience in the industry. Ultimately, only a small fraction of graduate students will/should stay in academia and continue down the career path of a professor. The majority of us will end up building something, or selling something. The location itself also prevents industry-smarts to give talks and host events on campus. It’s a very ideal environment for theoretical science and research, but not so much for industry/tech incubator styles of higher education, as we often see here in the bay area. That’s also why the MBA program of Cornell was never a bit hit in comparison to other ivy league schools.

The marriage of Tech and NYC might also lead to some interesting chemical reactions. For those CS graduates who ended up working in NYC, I believe it’s the city itself has turned them into half financial professionals. The trend is to combine everything with finance, just like in the sillicon valley, everything is depended on technology, web or mobile. In order to live in NYC, even if you are a geek, you need to learn what’s appropriate to dress and what’s not; you need to get used to hitting a bar as opposed to a cafe after work, and you need to have some sense of the financial data of your company, not to hire a CFO to take care of everything.

In a city in which an average developer can get pretty decent income just by working at a financial company, what’s the attraction for them to work under a mid to low salary for a start-up for 10+ hours each day then? People come to silicon valley to work for their next Google or Facebook dream, but what do people go to NYC for? Wall street, Madison avenue or Statue of Liberty? None of those seems to be as attractive as Palo Alto or Mountain View in a same aspect.

Before Cornell puts this Big Red Tag in NYC, maybe the metropolitan life style is the real question here, for Cornell Tech Campus, as well as for IT start-ups in NYC to think about.

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