Mining Collaboration and Innovation Through One IT

March 8, 2017

Hearst Memorial Mining Building has a storied legacy here on campus and was a fitting venue for our latest One IT event hosted by Berkeley Engineering. Hundreds of IT professionals gathered Wednesday, March 1, 3-5 p.m. to connect with each other, with leadership, and to learn more about some of the great work happening in the College of Engineering.

CIO Larry Conrad spoke about the value of these community events for building bridges between the different departments and IT units on campus. He noted the Berkeley tendency to put ourselves in “silos” with minimal “cross-pollination” and how the One IT movement started years ago is helping to diminish and change this practice. To break down the barriers, he pointed to the invaluable conversations that take place at these events.

Eric Fraser, the Director of IT at the College of Engineering, discussed the history of the Hearst Memorial Mining Building and connected it to the challenges we face in IT. On the National Register of Historic Places, construction began in 1902 but was finished in 1907 since there was a shortage of materials due to the Great Earthquake that hit San Francisco. Built to house the University’s School of Mines, there was no precedent or template for the building since most other Mining departments around the country had repurposed other buildings on campuses. Designed by John Galen Howard with help from Julia Morgan, the final design was intentionally supposed to invoke feelings of being underground in a mine shaft when looked at from the lobby. In its early history, it housed smelting equipment and students actually received hands on exposure to dynamite blasting and ore retrieval in a now-abandoned mineshaft that runs into the Berkeley hills. How does the history of this building relate to IT?

Eric connected the two by talking about how the architects needed to innovate when designing Hearst Mining. There was no preconceived notion of what a Mining building was supposed to look like and they really needed to innovate. “This notion of innovation where there is no immediate solution to a problem is indicative of what IT does most of the time. We are given problems and we need to a find a way to solve them,” explained Eric. The building was a testament to that same inspiration and additionally, they built for flexibility as opposed to the needs of the day. Like any good IT project, it was modular and could be rearranged for changing necessities. The techniques that students were being taught for mining were constantly updating, similar to what we see in the field of IT.

Eric was excited to highlight his team and share how they are a results-driven, innovative group that oftentimes “works in the trenches” and rarely get a chance to step back and showcase their work. He talked about the brand-new Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, as well as the NanoLab and Invention Lab, all offering amazing resources to the campus community. Participants were invited to tour these facilities during the event. He views the College of Engineering IT’s relationship with the rest of campus as being on the cutting edge in a lot of ways but having the potential for improvement. They are looking for partnerships that can spawn efficiencies around more commodity IT, which is big for his group. By focusing on what makes Berkeley Engineering IT special and sharing it with others, he hopes that that collaboration really takes off. Eric wrapped up the program by imploring everyone to network and make connections to people in other departments on campus, “Once you meet new people, you start to share ideas of how you do your work and how you get things done,” he said. At Berkeley a lot of things get done based on who you know, so these events are a great way for people to connect based on their shared professional field and nurture relationships that will build a more collaborative future together in IT at UC Berkeley.