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Using Dense Social Networks to Progress a Brilliant Career in Computer Science!


The February 10, 2013 Stony Brook (SBU) Northern CA Alumni Association meeting featured a very informative and enlightening talk by Ike Nassi, PhD (1974 Computer Science) about what he learned at SBU, the friends he made there, and use of his social network to further his career.

Ike was able to create and maintain a very "dense social network" for decades without using any of today's social networking websites!  Many of his professional contacts were made during his eight years at Stony Brook (BS 1970, MS 72, PhD 74).  The network of contacts enabled Ike to launch and progress a brilliant career in Computer Science and research into various aspects of computing.  The SBU Northern California Alumni Association is privileged to have Ike as an active member.

Takeways and Lessons Learned at Stony Brook

Ike said the most important, lasting things he got from SBU were:

  • Critical thinking  
  • Importance of questioning everything  
  • An appreciation of the golden rule  
  • Humility  
  • Meeting his wife Ronnie (they have been married for over 42 years and have 3 sons)  

Ike made many  friends at SBU- both as an undergrad and grad student as well as a Teaching Assistant (one of his students was John Hennessy- the President of Stanford University who has a PhD from SBU).   He is still in touch with almost all my close friends from Stony Brook!  For example:  "Richard, David, Dave, Larry, Michael, Ben, Karen, Laurie, Marcy."

Ike learned about leadership (but didn’t know it at the time) at SBU -as an orientation leader and as dormitory resident assistant. 

As an undergraduate student,  Ike discovered the joy of mathematics, satisfaction of computer programming, and the importance of logic. His PhD thesis was on the combination and synergies of of mathematical logic and computer programming: "Control Structures for Programming Languages Structured Programming A mathematical theory of execution sequences."   Then he developed a logic "to reason about control structures" and a proof that the logic was “sound” and “meaningful.” It was difficult, and used 3-valued logic, which humans who naturally understand 2-valued logics (true, false) are not easily able to comprehend.

Career after Stony Brook

Ike had many faculty offers from Universities, but chose to join SofTech (F-16, B-1, others)  Ike said that "If I hadn’t done that first DOD work, my career would have been very different."

At  Digital Equipment Corp (DEC), Ike worked on programming languages, the VAX minicomputer and workstations.  He met and built a strong professional relationship with Gordon Bell.

Ike learned to build PC’s.  Gordon Bell contacted him to help start Encore and build multiprocessors - something he knew little about.  But the company was able to build hierarchically structured multiprocessors.  He also started "Hacking Apple Macs (1984)."  

Ike worked at Apple Computer from  1989-96, which were said to be "dark days" at the company in the absence of Steve Jobs.  Ike moved to California and into the "limelight."  There he reconnected with a colleague named Larry and became affiliated with Stanford University and the Computer Museum in Boston, which later relocated to its present home in Mt View, CA. 

During a sabbatical at UC Berkeley,  Ike worked with the Ada programming language and built  Routers with embedded Radios.  But it was not the right time for commercialization of such a product (e.g. WiFi router) as the IEEE 802.11 standard was not mature.

Ike moved on to InfoGear, where he worked from 1997-2001.  There, he developed a phone with a web browser and email and called it the iPhone (1997).  CISCO later purchased InfoGear and owned the iPhone™

Cisco was a great place to work, but the times were bad (telecom bubble had just burst).  Ike liked the company, but got bored with the work.  So Ike joined Allegis Capital.  He also consulted for Dan E. @ Vanguard, and rediscovered mesh networks.  Gordon Bell invited Ike to Brussels (for TTI/Vanguard) to talk about mesh networks

That led Ike to Firetide (from 2001-2005) which he co-founded with Larry R. (Stony Brook), Barbara C. (Apple), Keith Klemba. He was then influenced by the simplicity of AppleTalk.  Ike also started learning Mandarin and went to China where he fell climbing "the Great Wall."

From 2005-2011, Ike was the Chief Scientist & Executive VP at SAP in Palo Alto, CA.  His responsibilities included industrial research, a Global Business Incubator, and sponsored Academic Research.  He hired several employees he had known from previous companies that worked on hardware support for SAP business software and an in-memory database.

While at SAP, Ike sponsored work at UC Santa Cruz and was known to some of the faculty.  Using those connections as well as one with Chancellor Blumenthal, Ike became an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science in 2011 and is still affiliated with that University. 

In 2012, Ike founded TidalScale - a stealth mode start-up that's working on projects that run servers on a Virtual Machine.  Ike was influenced by DARPA work from 1985-1989. Gordon Bell and other work colleagues invested in the company.  TidalScale's value proposition is that the product to be produced: "Scales, Simplifies, Auto-Optimizes, and  Evolves."  TidalScale turns “the cloud” upside down, according to Ike.  "Rather than run virtual machines on servers, TidalScale runs servers on a virtual machine," he said.

Volunteering at non-profits was and still is very important to Ike.  He has been, or is currently affiliated with:   The Computer History Museum, The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, The IEEE Industry Advisory Board, Watermark, DARPA, MIT Sloan, MIT CSAIL, Stony Brook University, Peking University,  Northwestern University EECS Dept.  He is a Founding Trustee (in 1995) of the Computer History Museum, where he currently serves on several boards.


Building and Evolving Dense Social Networks seems to have paid off for Ike, but he says one has to  actively maintain your friendships and networks.  With all the social media websites, "it’s easier now than ever before!" he added.  Ironically, Ike's "Dense Social Network" was built up and maintained from personal contacts/ interactions, keeping in touch via phone calls and emails and (only recently) LinkedIn.  Ike's LinkedIn profile was one of the top 1% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for all of 2012!

Ike told us that to progress your career, it's important to question the status quo, to think critically, and (when you feel justified) differently.  He continues to use LinkedIn, but not Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, or other social network websites.  Maintaining a "dense social network" seems to be more about closer connections- via phone calls or face to face meetings.  That resonates very well with this author.

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