How The Program Started

Like many great ideas, this program started with a conversation. Key players in the industry—many of whom are still on our industry advisory board today—talked about what skills would be needed in a program like this, where they might be able to host it, and what people they could bring in to help.

The bulk of the work in getting this program off the ground was in this planning process. Starting a new program at any university is an administrative and logistical effort, and figuring out how to shape, organize, and get accreditation for an entirely new program in a new space added even more logistical considerations. The initial planning for the program involved both academics and industry leaders alike. The discussion group included Dr. Volkan Otugen (Associate Dean) and Dr. Ed Forest (Professor, Civil Engineering), both from the Lyle School, along with industry leaders Chris Crosby (Co-Chair of the Advisory Board and CEO of Compass Datacenters), Jim Sargent (WW Services Strategy, Solutions, and Channel/Alliances of Micro Focus), and Peter Gross (Chairman of the Board of Directors at Cato). Chris Crosby then followed up with his friends and colleagues to help guide the program, and we got to brainstorming. Chris’ vision and efforts really drove the development of this program, and he deserves special kudos for that.

While they weren’t sure of the specific skills and courses we wanted to include at the beginning, They did know that it was imperative for the program to follow the approach of a learning degree rather than a supplemental one. They wanted to eliminate any assumptions and associations and find ways to move people from the “unknown unknown” to the “known known.”

The program also wanted the skills they taught to be tied directly into practical, actionable careers, so something that was equally important to them in the program’s conception was hosting it at a university where students could also take courses from a nationally recognized business school. Students ultimately want a degree that will advance their career, so they needed to figure out how to help both students and potential future employers understand the value of this degree.

Another challenge in structuring the program and finding its host stemmed from how to integrate the different disciplines. Leaders from different sectors—finance, real estate, building, IT, and software—would need to respect how the multiple disciplines were integrated rather than placed in a vertical hierarchy, and we needed to identify a logical way to organize everything. Between its nation-leading Cox School of Business and the fact that it already had computer science and engineering disciplines under one school, SMU quickly stood out as an ideal home for the program.

After about 18 months of building and narrowing down the course list and working through the logistics, the accrediation process took another 18 months. So three years from the first meeting about the potential of this program, SMU approved the launch, and the first cohort of students started in Fall 2014.

Where the program is going next

From the very first cohort of students, the program demonstrated its value in preparing its graduates for the world of digital infrastructure. The first graduate (Jesse Miller, in Spring 2015) went on to become the Senior Principal Systems Engineer, Chief Engineer, and Computer Network Defense Architect at Raytheon—an executive position in their datacenter.

Our challenge with the program now is getting the word out and showcasing the value of this degree to datacenter organizations as a new, innovative experience rather than just a graduate engineering degree in one of the traditional disciplines. Through marketing, conferences, and events, we want people to hear about us, ask us questions, and, of course, sign up! We’ve now got interest to start the next few chapters at SMU. Wherever the program goes next, and no matter how we see it expand, it will always be driven by its core principle—the digital infrastructure leaders of today educating and establishing the leaders of tomorrow.