SDM Tech Trek Report

CiscoGoogleIntelTeslaTibco By Joan Rubin, SDM Industry Co-director
June 22, 2012

What do you get when 23 SDM fellows travel 5,400 miles to visit eight companies in four days? The SDM Tech Trek — a soon-to-be annual trip to Silicon Valley to learn how top technical companies operate. This trip highlighted best practices from industry and built upon the students’ classroom learning with real world examples.


  • Expand students’ knowledge of complex challenges in different industries
  • Strengthen relationships between the SDM program and companies

Organized by a group of fellows and led by Co-Chairs Leena Ratnam, SDM ’12, and Neil Gadhok, SDM ’11, the Tech Trek provided SDM students an opportunity to engage with leading companies to discuss strategic, operational, and tactical challenges from both business and technical perspectives. Silicon Valley, a hub for software and computer technology giants, as well as clean-tech startups, was selected to expose the fellows (who have an average of 8-10 years of experience in a single industry), to a variety of industries in a short amount of time. At the various companies, discussions with senior management, product demonstrations, and tours highlighted the individual approaches adopted by these businesses to manage the complex issues they face.

Companies visited:

  • Cisco (Network and Communication Devices)
  • Silver Springs Networks (Smart Grid Utility Networks)
  • TIBCO (Infrastructure Software for Businesses)
  • Yammer (Social Media)
  • Tesla (Automotive)
  • Google (Internet Information Providers)
  • First Solar (Solar Energy)
  • Intel (Semiconductor)

Sampling of trip insights:

  • The visit to Cisco, hosted by Carol Ann McDevitt, SDM ’02, and Rafael Marañón, SDM ’10, included discussions with executives in the Network Operating System Technology Group. One of the key insights was that Cisco has a "no technology" religion. They do not tie themselves to or define themselves by any single technology. They look to constantly evolve.
  • TIBCO senior management engaged the fellows in a spirited give and take that demonstrated the need for companies to better utilize data analytics for competitive advantage. The SDM group was joined by Murat Sonmez, EVP, Global Field Operations, Tom Laffey, EVP Products and Technology, and Vivek Ranadive, chairman and CTO (MIT BS and MS).
  • At the Tesla plant in Palo Alto, CA, Milo Werner, manager of New Product Introduction, (MIT MS and MBA ’07) and Jim Dunley, VP of Powertrain Engineering and Production (MIT BS, EECS and Economics, ’79), gave presentations in which they emphasized that development of great products includes making mistakes, learning, and improving the product while always focusing on customer needs and product experience.
  • Intel employee Heidi Pan (Sloan) and current student and Intel intern Rutu Manchiganti, SDM ’10, brought together a panel from Intel to highlight how innovation can be encouraged and fostered in larger companies.

Key take-aways:

  • Face-to-face meetings with key stakeholders strengthen relationships between SDM and industry, opening up opportunities for further collaboration.
  • Meeting and engaging with SDM Fellows creates opportunities for companies to identify and recruit graduates.
  • Fellows have a better understanding of the corporate environment in both startup and established companies and can tailor their remaining time at SDM to focus on skills needed by industry today.

Tech Trek 2013

The SDM ’12s are already planning for next year’s Tech Trek. If your company would like to participate, please contact Joan Rubin, SDM industry co-director at or 617-253-2081.