In the hub of creativity and innovation that is Los Angeles, tech is life. That reality is ever-present on college campuses, and CSUN is one of the best at harnessing and sharing the latest and greatest in technology to foster student and faculty success.
To showcase these tools and trends, the university’s Division of Information Technology hosted more than 200 CSUN students, staff, faculty and members of the community May 8 at the ninth annual Technology Fair.
The fair included keynote speakers Jeanne Holm, deputy chief information officer (CIO) and senior tech advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Ben Butler, global lead for Cloud Innovation Centers at Amazon — who spoke about the tech giant’s culture in his presentation “Enabling Innovation for Everyone.”
Amazon started its online business in the late 1990s selling books, but the company’s central idea was to leverage the power of innovation to create online commerce opportunities for everyone, said Butler, who joined the company in 2011.
“It’s innovation that really makes the world go ’round,” he said. “Our mission is to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company. Our commitment is to make our customers’ lives easier. We think long term, and some of our bets take several years to come to fruition — so we have to be stubborn on our vision.
“If you want to be inventive, you have to be willing to fail,” Butler said. “We’re trying to keep a childlike curiosity, and keep inventing and trying. You also have to be willing to be misunderstood for a long time — we’re very comfortable being misunderstood, especially by Wall Street and investors. [Amazon founder and CEO] Jeff Bezos said, ‘Don’t be afraid of your investors — be afraid of your customers.'”
Amazon Prime, a ubiquitous service for many more well-off Americans, is an example of the company’s focus on increasing selection for customers, he said.
“We [created Prime] by answering the question, ‘How do we remove the uncertainty of shipping — when is it going to arrive, how much is it going to cost?’”
Butler supervises the company’s Cloud Innovation Centers around the world, which employ Amazon technology from commercial ventures and apply it to solve problems in the public sector — including for police departments and a handful of universities.
Hilary J. Baker, vice president for Information Technology and CIO at CSUN, introduced Holm, noting her vast experience in innovation — including working at the World Bank, the White House and NASA.
“I’m so happy to see so many staff and faculty in this room, and a few students who could get away for a little bit from their finals studies,” Baker said. “We’re also thrilled to share this great experience with campus constituents and with our CSU IT colleagues from the Office of the Chancellor and CSU Channel Islands.”
Holm spoke about tech partnerships between the city of L.A. and universities, including eagerly awaited (or dreaded, depending whom you ask) autonomous flying vehicles.
“This year, we will have a pilot,” she said. “It won’t be fully operational — you won’t be able to Uber it yet. But within three to five years, we will be getting Uber up and flying over the skies of Los Angeles. Every time I say this, people are like, ‘What?’
“When we look at the data, it turns out that 95 percent of car crashes and accidents are human error,” she said. “AI (artificial intelligence) can avoid 95 percent of those. So stay tuned, buckle in and volunteer when you’re ready.”
L.A. is a city “filled with challenges, opportunities and amazing people,” Holm added. “We’re trying to get to that future of a city that is equitable and efficient and great for all of us. That’s a journey that we take together. We’re trying to build a connected city that is the kind of city you want.”
She also took the opportunity to speak directly to CSUN students, thousands of whom graduate this week. The city is hiring for internships, fellowships and full-time jobs in information sciences, data science and more, Holm said. She thanked faculty and staff for the university’s commitment to student success, innovation and community engagement.
“I’m really grateful for all the work and engagement that CSUN does in the community, and I appreciate what you do for all Angelenos,” Holm said. “It’s really a pillar of the community. Whether you are running infrastructure services or are a teacher in the classroom, everything you do makes a difference. I want to thank you on behalf of a grateful city and a grateful mayor.”