Israel's I.T. League - The Technion: Israel’s Hard Drive

Published on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 by Webmaster

Israel's I.T. League - The Technion: Israel’s Hard Drive
WHEN the Technion class of 1957 graduated, its members got together and wrote a letter of complaint to their prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who was otherwise busy building a nation. “There were no jobs for us in our fields,” recalls Gideon F. Inbar, an electrical engineer who is now 79. “My wife kept saying, ‘Oy, things are grim, grim, grim.’ ”

In 2013, the student body has pretty much the opposite problem.

"Officially, the rule is that first- and second-year students should not take outside jobs," says Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Cornell's partner in creating an ambitious graduate school for applied science and engineering in New York City. Mr. Lavie, a psychophysiologist who periodically ducks out of his roomy hilltop office to check in on his sleep-disorder laboratories and two start-up companies, acknowledges that exceptions are made. Often. Because getting out and ahead in the work force is, in many ways, the very idea.

"They turn a blind eye," says Asaad Malshy, 24, who is studying physics and electrical engineering while working two afternoons a week at Intel, one of Israel's largest employers. "I used to dream that I would finish university and get a job in high tech," he says, "until I realized the dream was already in reach."

"It's a pressure cooker here and doing O.K. requires a lot of effort," Mr. Malshy says. "This university consumes you, and you don't get a break if you have a job, or even if you start your own company." He adds with a grin: "You still have to pass advanced integral algebra."

But if the Technion refuses to coddle its charges — about 9,000 undergraduates and 3,800 graduate students — Intel, I.B.M., Microsoft and Yahoo and the like make up for it. All have set up offices along a direct bus route from student housing, recruit heavily from the student body and offer working hours that take those advanced integral algebra exams into account.

Much as Silicon Valley popped up around Stanford, and Route 128 came to symbolize high technology because of its proximity to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so the Technion has transformed the sleepy northern city of Haifa into a buzzy high-tech center.

In a country known as start-up nation, this is not the only university where students can bury themselves in robotics, engineering and computer science labs, but it is generally considered the best. When M.I.T. is mentioned in a movie showing in Israel — "American Pie," for example — the Hebrew subtitle simply says "Technion."

"I can say without exaggeration that Israel could not have been built without the Technion," says Yossi Vardi, who has founded or helped build more than 60 companies in Israel and has five degrees from the Technion. "There is a Technion graduate behind practically every highway, desalinization plant, new missile technology and start-up company in the country."

EMBEDDED in the Haifa curriculum is learn by doing. Interdisciplinary courses that combine business and innovation — like "Technological Entrepreneurship," taught by Dan Shechtman, a Nobel laureate in chemistry — are the most popular on campus.

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