Friends and family often ask me to explain what, exactly, goes on at the UC-Berkeley School of Information. The simple answer is: a lot. The long answer starts with information, winds through technology, and ends with society. The reality is that this two year masters program is truly an interdisciplinary program that draws people from more disciplines than I ever imagined.
Our students come with training in engineering, business, sociology, art, journalism, international affairs and international development, and many other disciplines. Mix in some of the best faculty in the world, friendly staff, an incredible building, and the Cal School of Information makes a great place to spend a couple years.
I thought the best way to explain my first year might just be to tell you what I’ve learned. Here’s a short list:
In Distributed Computing Applications and Infrastructure with Professor John Chuang, I learned the fundamentals of computer science (algorithms, networking, security, and so on), Python, and what it’s like to design and code software at different levels of scale.
In Information Organization and Retrieval with Professor Bob Glushko, I learned that information organization and retrieval genuinely affect organizations of all stripes, that XML is powerful, and that just because you think about information or an artifact one way does not mean anyone else does (apparent when designing a standardized system for reviewing restaurants).
In Information and Communications Technology for Social Enterprise with Professor Tapan Parikh, I learned that iteration can make good ideas great, that users (their needs, aspirations, and skills) must come first from day one, and that business models for “doing well and doing good” do not come easily.
In Managing in Information-Intensive Companies with Professor Morten Hansen, I learned through many case studies that companies often face similar challenges around innovation, decision-making, and collaboration and that it is possible to apply thoughtful frameworks that facilitate clear thinking. I also learned that some companies are happy to tolerate inquisitive grad students probing their approach to the challenges they face in today’s global business world (thank you, VW Electronics Research Laboratory).
In Social and Organizational Issues of Information with Professor Coye Cheshire, I learned that people have been repeating the same tired things about technology (Amazing! Scary!) for a long, long time. I also learned that sometimes the gap between the online world and the offline world is very small and sometimes it is very big (trust and reputation come to mind) and that as “information professionals”, it is very important to “mind the gap”.
In Information Law and Policy with Professor Deirdre Mulligan, I learned that the protection of the rights of individuals often gets left behind in the never-ending push for new technological innovation, that our generation needs to be asking some serious questions about the implications of the corporatization of Internet architecture, and that many of today’s legal instruments fall short of addressing the issues created by technology.
In my second semester I also took two classes outside the I School:
In Designing and Developing Online News Packages with Professors Koci Hernandez and Jeremy Rue at the J-School, I learned that good design is within reach and great design should be revered, that the Internet can literally be an unending source of design inspiration, and that it is possible (and surprisingly enjoyable) to reverse-engineer and re-construct web sites that I like.
In Wireless Industry Innovation and Entrepreneurship with Professor Reza Moazzami at the Haas School of Business, I learned that business strategy truly matters, that there’s a major difference between fact (financials) and opinion (much of pop culture, the tech media, etc.), that many of the tools and services that I use and enjoy (Skype, Google Voice, etc.) have no viable business model, that there’s a lot going on in the wireless value chain (starting with spectrum and ending in the hands of 4 billion people), and that I can be both inspired, confused, and surprised by the histories and tactics of some of the biggest wireless successes and failures.
I also learned a lot from group projects (a big thank you to all my patient teammates) and from my inspiring peers in our research group (Represent). At the end of the day I learned that if you pull on any thread related to technology, you will quickly see how interwoven technology, science, business, culture, governance, and law truly are. If you look at any technology in a vacuum, you will fail. All in all I had a fantastic first year and I’m looking forward to more after the summer break.
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