Harvard's Chief Information Officer Is Preparing for the Next Zuckerberg

Posted by Liz Dwyer

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Can universities intentionally produce innovative tech entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg? Harvard, where Zuckerberg famously developed Facebook before dropping out, is certainly going to try. In 2010 they hired chief information officer, Anne Margulies, who's been busy coordinating the entire university's technology efforts and ensuring they support student innovation. She says the school is "absolutely convinced" that "the next Zuckerberg is here right now."

Along with tapping the "innovative potential in our student body," Margulies says a big part of her position is facilitating how the university takes the best student-generated ideas and supports them so that the entire campus can benefit. She points to introductory computer science course CS50 as an integral part of developing those innovation abilities. Far from being the sole domain of the pocket protector set, the class has become one of the most popular classes at Harvard.

Seventy percent of students who take the class, which, requires no programming experience, aren't computer science majors. According to the course description, the class "teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently" with "problem sets inspired by real-world domains of biology, cryptography, finance, forensics, and gaming." Students also have to complete a final project that, says Margulies, usually results in them creating "small but incredibly important technology innovations that they wish they had at Harvard."

What's really noteworthy is that Margulies says that the university—and this is something other colleges would be smart to copy—is working closely with the professor that teaches the class to figure out how to scale up the student projects and roll them out across the campus. And, like Facebook, if these projects are well received on campus, there's always the possibility that Silicon Valley will come knocking.