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Blah, blah, technology, blah: Sharing the MDC Vision with the IEEE Conference



By Kirk Bresniker, Hewlett Packard Labs Chief Architect and HPE Fellow


Well you're in your little room

And you're working on something good

But if it's really good

You're gonna need a bigger room


And when you're in the bigger room

You might not know what to do

You might have to think of

How you got started sitting in your little room

– The White Stripes, “Little Room”


There are lots of things they don’t teach you in engineering school.

There’s the legal stuff, like what it’s like to sit in deposition across the table from a patent troll’s lead IP litigator or trying to understand if your ideas are correctly expressed in the language of a patent application. Listen carefully to your legal team and you’ll get through it.

Then there’s communications. While it will be nothing for millennials, I had to get used to blogging, tweeting, and seeing myself on YouTube. At this point, I’ve done everything from selfies to serving as part of a full-blown Hollywood production crew. Harder than that was content. I passed my required Technical Communications for Engineers course and we had to present our senior design competition work to a review panel (we were the first team at Santa Clara University to succeed in creating an IEEE Micromouse maze solving robot). But that was primarily communicating to our community on non-controversial topics. What I wasn’t prepared for, what I’ve had to figure out along the way, is how to communicate something when you’re the only one who knows what you’re talking about.

Technical Career Path

One of the things that makes working at HPE special is our Technical Career Path (TCP). Sponsored by the office of CTO Martin Fink, the TCP is our peer-driven career development and advancement program that affords technologists technical roles from Entry to Senior Fellow which are equivalent to most roles on the Management Career Path. For me one of the most challenging transitions on the TCP is from Expert Engineer to Master Engineer, because that marks the transition from being a highly productive individual contributor to being highly productive through other individuals contributors.

When I’ve had the opportunity to talk to our newly minted Master Engineers, one question I invariably get is “Have you ever had an idea that you know in your gut is great, but everyone else wants you to drop it?” It was the same question that I had had myself and I tell them “Unless you feel like that some of the time, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”  

I’ve written in the past about crazy ways I’ve tried to connect to different communities, but my best tactic came from a discussion with one of my long-time collaborators in HPE Marketing, Michelle Weiss. Michelle happened to be in our Enterprise Briefing Center listening to me present to a customer just after I started as an HP Fellow and VP/Chief Technologist of our Business Critical Systems global servers business unit. Afterwards she took the time to tell me what worked for her in my presentation, in her own brutally honest way.

“At first all I heard was blah, blah, technology, blah. But then you told a story about what it was like for you as an engineer when HP and Compaq merged, and that connected me to what you were trying to say. Tell more stories that connect you to your audience.” From then, I’ve sought out confidants across HPE teams to help me find out what I need to do to communicate to their communities effectively.

The conference, the keynote, my wife, and our program

All of this was running through my head las week when I left my wife and daughter midway through her prospective college campus tour and hopped on the red-eye from Portland, Oregon to Atlanta, Georgia for COMPSAC 2016: The 40th IEEE Computer Society International Conference on Computers, Software & Applications. I had agreed to give a keynote on our Machine Advanced Development and Research program and was feeling a bit out of my depth. My keynote was on day two. Day one was to be presented by Yale Patt, who had created the first complex logic gate on single piece of silicon the year before I was born. Headlining day three was Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Com.

If past years’ programs were any guide, this was going to be an audience primarily of academics and heavy on software. After two and a half years at Labs, one thing that is abundantly clear is that I don’t think like a researcher at all. My most proficient program environments are the vi Unix text editor and a C99 compliant compiler. Fortunately the past Computer Society president, Dejan Milojicic, is a co-worker at Labs and a good friend. He helped me understand what would be unique and different about the perspectives I could share with this community and what I could do to connect with them. He assured me that the keynote would be a success, I chose to believe him and he was spot on.

What I talked about during my keynote were the motivations, experiences and economics of being a computer design lead as the highly vertically integrated RISC/UNIX supply chain matured, and then gave way to the more horizontally integrated industry standard server world, which is now giving way to a cloud-native world (or would be if Moore’s Law scaling weren’t just about to finally hit the limits of physics), along with several other foundational technologies, like general purpose operating systems, electronic communications, relational databases.

Nearing chaos

We are fast approaching a chaotic period where we will have the opportunity and the economic impetus to re-examine and re-create information technology to meet exponential demands with exponential scaling capabilities. This is a confluence of technical and economic factors that haven’t aligned like this in sixty years.

When you’re first meeting a new community and you’re making your case for the first time, there is nothing so encouraging as looking out and seeing that head nod, that sign that you’re connecting and communicating. At IEEE, everywhere I looked I saw heads nodding. I ended with a call to action to prepare and to participate in our recently announced four initial open source Machine related projects.

It was a novel and very rewarding experience to connect with this amazing academic community. I’ve often repeated a statement attributed to HPE board member Marc Andreessen.

“The difference between a vision and a hallucination is how many people can see it.”

In this case it was definitely a shared vision of Memory-Driven Computing which may create sustainable generations of open, scalable information technology.

Download the full presentation here. 

"Memory-Driven Computing: Adapting algorithms to thrive on abundant memory."

Rock out here.

Photo by Summi via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

About the Author


Kirk Bresniker is Chief Architect of Hewlett Packard Labs and an Hewlett Packard Enterprise Fellow. Prior to joining Labs, Kirk was Vice President and Chief Technologist in the HP Servers Global Business Unit representing 25 years of innovation leadership.

Yasir Jamal

Hello Kirk,

I was never a good computer geek during my high school or engineering years (focused more towards high voltage stuff, e.g generators, transformers), as a matter of fact when i first joined HPE in May `10 as a floor manufacturing technician (back then it was HP), i built a big box and installed some memory/processors, had no idea that i just assembled a DL380G7. It took me a week to realize what server actually is.

Well my story is a book and in short ...., i take loads of inspiration from you and your patents, and videos available on HPE portal .. Keep it going and hopefully i will get a chance to meet you in person one day.

I am currently working as Hardware Engineer at HPE Houston Campus supporting Apollo 6000 platforms.




The brutally honest Michelle Weiss approves of this blog. (and who doesn't like the White Stripes?)