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Vikram Jandhyala, University of Washington vice provost for innovation. (UW Photo)

University of Washington administrator Vikram Jandhyala has been one of the driving forces behind the Global Innovation Exchange, a new Bellevue, Wash.-based technology graduate school founded as a joint effort between UW, China’s Tsinghua University and companies like Microsoft.

The program will accept its first cohort of about 30 students next fall and hopes to break the mold for what a typical tech education looks like.

This has been just part of Jandhyala’s mission ever since he stepped into his current role about a year ago. He wears many hats, but they’re all focused on building a more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, both on- and off-campus.

A rendering of the interior of the planned GIX building.
A rendering of the interior of the planned GIX building.

He’s the UW’s vice provost for innovation, and executive director of the UW’s innovation hub called CoMotion. He’s also an entrepreneur himself, having founded electromagnetic simulation company Nimbic before it was acquired last year.

Jandhyala has said he believes some of the most interesting things happening at many universities are at the edge of campus, where students run into the real world. This is where he wants to help create a “innovation district” all around UW’s neighborhood.

“We want this area to be an innovation district where both the UW and the community can partner in innovative partnerships, programs, and spaces to build a real hub for what we call ‘inclusive innovation’ with startups, industry connections, and community connections,” he has said.

Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I have a fun — and I’d like to think, important — job at UW around innovation. I develop strategies and best practices on innovation and technology transfer, build ways for folks to learn about the art and science of innovation, create new ways for our university to work with external innovation ecosystems and partners, and talk and write about all this at various venues. An engineered system approach helps, as does really empathizing and understanding what people need. At the end of the day I love doing this because it’s a creative, challenging endeavor which is always evolving and never done. It creates new value for many people and brings to light all the important work at the UW and its partners.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “About scientific computing: while there is a lot of justified attention on big data, AI, machine learning, apps, etc., it’s also important to realize that there are many scientists and engineers who build amazingly complex computational models and massive simulations based on engineering, physics and system understanding that power and support many things in the background while not being as cool as big data and machine learning.

About innovation: while it’s a buzzword, it’s also a humble nuts and bolts discipline with lots of failure and loss of ego along the way. There are ways to incentivize and systemize innovation without straitjacketing individual creativity. It’s actually a must-do.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “My kids (two boys, ages two and four) who ask amazing questions. My wife, a smart engineer and a Harvard business school graduate who challenges me and, often, supports me. My parents, both of whom were physics professors who studied in the U.S. and went back to India. (Our house was full of books and there was ample space and time for creativity). The amazing teams and people at UW and at CoMotion that I work with daily, who keep me on my toes, energized and effective. My cats, who couldn’t care what I was doing or what I think I was achieving but are still lovable.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My iPhone. I’m addicted, I confess. Email. Social media. Apps. Alerts. Calendar. Location based popups. Maps.”

vikram Jandhyala's workspace.
vikram Jandhyala’s workspace.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I have a nice adjustable standing desk. I like to stand and work when I’m trying to think of something energizing and creative; I sit and work when I just have to get through something. Nice chairs for conversations with smart people who visit the office all the time.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.): “Focus. When it’s time to do X, do X. When it’s not, don’t. Don’t multitask, it’s not effective. If you can’t focus, that’s OK. Don’t penalize yourself for it. Know when you can focus, when you are in a ‘scanning’ mode, and when you are able to think really innovative thoughts. All three times are valuable. A good calendar system and good access to the material you need are also critical.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac, except when I teach. Windows and Lenovo laptops still have the best stylus technology.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Kirk. My intro to Star Trek was by watching reruns in India. My dad would predict what was going to happen, having seen the originals in the U.S.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter. Makes us more effective in our lifetimes.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would: “Thank them immensely, then tell them I’m not ready, but stay connected. Money will come when the idea is there.”

I once waited in line for: “Broadway tickets. An idiot tourist accidentally burned my hand with a cigarette he was carrying. I didn’t say anything.”

Your role models: “I meet so many inspiring people in the course of my work, and read and hear about many more in many fields of endeavor. I tend to subconsciously aggregate ‘rules of thumb’ and ‘rules to live by’ from these people. I can’t always follow them, and ultimately I think we have an internal ‘judge’ in us that is driving us to be what we want to be. We individually are our best role models for ourselves, to find our uniqueness. I also can’t help but be awed and inspired by real-life Iron Man Elon Musk — who is working and succeeding on some of mankind’s biggest challenges and amazingly mixes the physical and the digital.”

Greatest Game in History: “I’m a cricket fan, like 99 percent of people from India. So India’s win in the World Cup final in 2011. As a graduate student at Illinois, it was fun to see the Bulls winning with Jordan’s return in the 90s.”

Vikram Jandhyala.
Vikram Jandhyala. (UW Photo)

Best Gadget Ever: “The Casio calculator watch. But more seriously, the latest smartphone and the latest drone.”

First Computer: “Sinclair ZX Spectrum — with 48K RAM and a Zilog-80 processor! My dad brought this from Europe and ended up paying more import duty than the cost of the computer since it was such a rarity to the customs folks. We hooked it up the TV, external memory was a cassette drive that took a minute or more to load or save a BASIC program. I wrote a cool chemistry reaction visualizer, with graphics of reactions in test tubes, balanced chemical equations, and a background synthesized voice I was pretty proud of. I even created a company name for that product — Vixoft (Vikram plus software).”

Current Phone: “iPhone 6 Plus.”

Favorite App: “Evernote when I’m working. Netflix when I’m not working.”

Favorite Cause: “Stop continually torturing billions of animals for their entire short, miserable lives for cheap meat that we don’t really need in our diet. They weren’t really put here for that reason despite ancient claims to the contrary. They have the same feelings as we do. The cruelty, savagery, and heartlessness is mindboggling, and hidden behind the scenes. All to fit in a sustainable business model and make profits.”

Most important technology of 2015: “Drones.”

Most important technology of 2017: “Autonomous, soon to be driverless cars.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Try to be inclusive, not exclusive. Technology is great. Think about how it can solve real problems for all people. Think about how technology itself can include all people.”

Twitter: @vikramjandhyala

LinkedIN: Vikram Jandhyala

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