Sunday, August 1, 2010

Entrepreneurship: Taking an Idea into Your Own Hands

I was reminded on Friday that "interdisciplinary computing" can mean far more than the intersection of computing and some other well defined field of study. I had a conversation with Margaret Ellis, computer scientist and entrepreneur who recently started her own business called DevelopEase to create and disseminate applications to help schools support children with disabilities.

It was her personal experience with a sick child that led her to see the need for additional assistive technology in the K-12 classroom. But it was her background as a computer scientist which enabled her to recognize and seize an opportunity to leverage existing technology: the Apple iPod touch. She saw that the iPod, if equipped with the right applications, could be used by special needs students to overcome traditional barriers to learning in an engaging and customizable way that other students would enjoy as well - thus helping overcome the stigma of being given "different" activities.

Ellis's computer science background also provided her the technical know-how to get the project off the ground herself, and this eventually led to the formation of  DevelopEase.

Suddenly "interdisciplinary computing" takes on a completely different meaning.

Starting, and being successful with, your own computing business means you are at various times a CEO, CIO, CFO, Marketer, Sales Person/Evangelist...and Software Architect. Not to mention an expert in the technical content. When the idea for the company stems from a very personal connection, as I find is often the case with the projects I investigate, "worlds collide" and "it [is] like a freight train" - to quote Margaret Ellis. In addition to the areas already referred to, "interdisciplinary" comes to mean not only is computing your professional life, but it invades your personal life. But no one yet has told me this is a problem - the enthusiasm and sense of pride in her work that radiated from Ellis spoke far more than any words.

The reason that my conversation with DevelopEase owner Margaret Ellis inspired me so much that I wanted to write about it, was that it stretched my mind to think even more about what interdisciplinary computing can mean - what the potential is and all the directions that a motivated computer scientist can go.