Subhash Verghese

Reflections on the iSchool

Contributed by Subhash Verghese G‘01
Executive Director HR Technology and Information Strategy, Comcast Cable

I fell in love with SU sitting in the lounge at Schine looking out across University Place. It was a gorgeous spring day, and I was visiting a friend at SU. I was ready to take the next step in life but not quite sure what I wanted to do. Work? More school? Here I was, back in the West, a few years out of engineering school in India where I had lived for the last few decades and now on my way back to my Canadian birthplace. I knew I didn’t want to do more Electronics Engineering; I loved the technology, but it seemed too far away from the human side of things. Maybe a Master’s in Computer Science and an MBA? Then a dear friend of mine at SU mentioned a program that he’d heard about – “…it’s like a combination of technology and management”. Intriguing. Information management was well-established by then, but for me it was so novel — until then, I’d only thought of it in terms of computers.

A few fascinating conversations later, waiting in the lounge for my friend to finish class, I put down the brochure for the Information Resources Management program and looked out. I still remember how I felt. “This is it.”

When I started school in September, I found out how much more than just a combination of technology and management it was – it was about information. I loved the tech and the aspects of management and leadership, but the program showed me the core of what fascinated me: the data, the information and the knowledge that made our new economy run. Though computing was already well embedded in the household, it was really the early days of the consumerization of information at scale.

There couldn’t have been a more exciting time to work with some of the greatest thought leaders in the field at the (then) IRM program, to see so many of key events that defined how we shop and consume information today.

I saw the dawn of e-commerce and the boom and bust of the dotcoms – a friend and I spoke of starting a website JUST FOR SOCKS – was still available. (“Who’s going to buy socks on-line?”, “ Great business model”)

I remember telling people about this new search engine called Google. (“Silly name and how are they going to make money?”)

I was one of the last generations of students to spend nights sifting through print copies of academic journals in the library. (“Man, I wish libraries could be open 24×7”)

I saw how we consumed digital content changed. (“I can download just a song? What’s Netflix?”)

It was at the iSchool that I had the fortune of meeting some of the people who had the biggest impacts on my life and my perspective on Information. From my very first class with Professor Garcia-Murillo (“Subhash, how long will you call me ‘Professor’”?– sorry Martha!) to my very last with Professor MacInnes (Ian!) and all the amazing guides in between, they shared wisdom that still holds true. Bob Heckman will laugh at how hard we opposed the “Economics of Information” course, but now in an information economy, it turned out to be one of the most valuable. We groaned under the of “Research Methods for Information,” but today, in an age of disinformation, I am armed with the tools to assess data. When today, in my position at one of the biggest media and telecom companies, I debate data privacy and information access rights, I still draw from Professor Muller’s policy class. And yes, though interfaces have wildly improved, the architectural fundamentals of information that Jeff Rubin taught me still haven’t.

Today, in an age of disinformation, I am armed with the tools to assess data.

These days when people ask me about the value of a graduate degree, I tell them that it can be done in two ways: you can get your card punched, or you can use the time establishing fundamentals with a group of peers, in the apprenticeship of experts, to sublimate your learnings into a solid foundation – indeed, mastering something. You don’t get time for that when you’re working.

I didn’t just benefit academically from the iSchool. My time at SU was blessed with people that became like family and showed me immense kindness. When I started at SU, I worked in the food court and struggled a little with money. Until today, I remember the kind co-worker who noticed and put a word in Rob, the manager’s, ear. That extra little bit that he helped me with let me eat more than ramen many days.

Shortly after, I joined Computing and Media Services — there isn’t enough space in this article to talk about the impact that folks there had on me. Dave Hoalcraft taught me leadership and customer experience; Judy Thomas and Chris Dranchek taught me the value of a strong process. What I learned about data and real-life technology from Nelson Pardee, I quite literally used yesterday.  Today, as I lead digital transformations, I combine all of that wisdom.

The wonderful people I met at SU gave me skills, but more than that they invited me into their homes and lives – for holidays and celebrations and just because. So, while I took away so much for my career, even more, I took away the true meaning of caring and of being family to people that aren’t your family.